Publisher’s Notes by Paul R. Judy
Institute Activities During 1997
Symphony Orchestra Institute: Organization Change Consultation
The Jurassic Symphony: An Analytic Essay on the Prospects of Symphony Orchestra Survivalby Robert S. Spich and Robert M. Sylvester
Restoring the Ecosystem of American Classical Music through Audience Empowerment by Sung Fu-Yuan
The Leadership Complexity of Symphony Orchestra Organizations by Paul R. Judy
Special Section: Women in Leadership Roles
Women Conductors: Has the Train Left the Station? by Marietta Nien-hwa Cheng
A Quantitative Analysis of Women in Leadership Roles in Symphony Orchestra Organizations
Gender and Leadership: A Review of Pertinent Research
Book Review by Mary Parker Follett
About the Cover…by Phillip Huscher
We open this sixth issue of Harmony with a report of the Institute’s activities during 1997, our second calendar year of operation. As you will see, we are steadfastly pursuing our mission of fostering positive change and organizational development within North American symphony orchestra organizations.
As leaders within symphony institutions become more interested in improving the cohesiveness and effectiveness of their organizations, and building greater enthusiasm, trust, and good will, they will be increasingly open to examining their internal structures and processes. There is evidence that such introspection is already under way in some organizations. As this pattern acquires momentum, forward-looking leaders will wish to consider “organization change programs” utilizing “process consultation.” Indeed, the Institute is interested in selectively sponsoring such efforts. The Institute has adopted a statement of beliefs and principles which it proposes should govern organization change and process consultation programs (page xi). For all participants in symphony organizations, we urge a careful reading of this statement, and welcome any thoughts and questions.
In May 1997, I attended a conference on the cultural industries sponsored by New York University’s Stern School of Business. Many interesting papers were presented at that conference, including a thoughtful study by a West Coast professorial team. Robert Sylvester, the new dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts at Portland State University in Oregon, has had a long career as a celebrated cellist, festival producer, and educator. He has a deep love for the arts, particularly music, and the symphonic art form. Robert Spich is an associate professor in organization and strategy at the Anderson School at UCLA. Joining their diverse training and perspectives in a respectful but detached way, and drawing from their Stern conference presentation and subsequent work, they have authored for the Harmony audience a longer-term perspective of the symphony orchestra institution within the framework of “organizational ecology.” As you will see, they raise a number of issues as to the very survival of symphonic institutions, particularly those which do not identify and pursue effective adaptive strategies. In a subsequent issue of Harmony, the authors will put forth a range of strategic choices which they believe these institutions should consider in order to preserve their institutional standing, and carry the symphonic art form forward into future generations.
Thoughtful people generally agree that the symphonic art form needs regularly to be energized with new music if it is to retain its vitality and expand its following.
What music is to be selected for orchestra performance, and through what decision-making processes selections are to be made, tend to be the issues. These matters have been addressed directly and obliquely by various authors in previous issues of Harmony. In this issue, Soong Fu-Yuan takes the position that audiences, as well as performers, should be substantially more involved in the encouragement and selection of new music. This involvement should be actively promoted by adapting methods well established for introducing many other new consumer products and services in a pluralistic, democratic, capitalistic society. New music should be nominated and played by performers before voting audiences, and composers should be rewarded handsomely if their music receives the highest public acclaim. Fu-Yuan’s view is that audiences should be “empowered”—invited to be much more alert, actively involved, and trusted in their choices of what new music is to be played for them.
Since the formation of the Institute, we have regularly propounded the unique makeup of the symphony orchestra organization as compared with any other organizational form. In organizational science terms, symphony organizations are “complex systems.” Through regular discussions with leaders throughout many organizations and by standing back and analyzing what I hear and observe, I have concluded that these systems have a “leadership complexity” which is in itself unique. Further, I believe that this complexity in formal leadership roles is a contributor to generic institutional complexity, as much as it is a result. I lay out these observations and their implications as to organizational process and functioning in an essay starting on page 41.
When one becomes deeply involved with symphony organizations, especially with the idea of better understanding their leadership complexity, it becomes quickly apparent how many leadership positions women occupy. We decided to explore this aspect of the symphony organization world in a series of interviews, reports, and essays brought together in a special section: “Women in Leadership Roles in Symphony Orchestra Organizations” that begins on page 45.
The initial content of this special section consists of reports of interviews and roundtable discussions with three separate groups of women in common leadership roles in symphony organizations. We are indebted to Marilyn Scholl, Sara Austin, and Margareth Owens for their excellent editorial work in collecting and preparing these reports. And, special thanks, also, go to each of the 17 par- ticipating leaders!
These reports are followed by the very personal and lively insights of Marietta Cheng about the challenges of being a woman music director and conductor, and her views about the glass ceiling which exists in her profession.
Following this essay is an analysis we have compiled as to the level of participation of women in various components within symphony organizations, and in leadership roles. We think you will find this data quite informative, if not striking.
To round out this special section, we present a review of scholarly research on the topic of sex differences, especially as relates to organizational leadership patterns. In a neighboring Evanston institution, we were pleased to find Alice Eagly, a well-known scholar in this area. In interview format, Alice reports her research findings, and comments on various aspects of gender and leadership in the world of symphony organizations.
Mary Parker Follett was one of the most profound thinkers on the topic of organizational leadership. Writing and speaking in the 1920s, her ideas were well ahead of the times. Although certainly respected by a number of practicing managers and by some contemporary scholars in organizational behavior, her thoughts and writings were generally forgotten. Martha Babcock, a musician leader in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a scholar/writer in her own right, presents an impressive review of Follett’s writings, recently republished in a volume entitled Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of Management: A Celebration of Writings. We think this review may well send many of our readers to the nearest bookstore. You have probably already noted that the bookmark accompanying this issue highlights a Follett quote!
Pictured on this issue’s cover is a fragment from the score of a truly fantastic piece of orchestral music. Can you identify it? From the perspective of historical orchestral development, why was this music so special? On page 116, you can verify or discover the answer in the excellent vignette prepared by Phillip Huscher.
We are grateful to the 35 symphony organizations listed on page 118 for their 1998 “early bird” support of the Institute. The list includes 18 organizations providing support for the first time. Our goal for supporting organizations by year end is 100. We have a long way to go, renewing the support of some 40 organizations and adding at least 25 new supporters. If your organization was a 1997 supporter and has not yet renewed, or if your organization has not yet initiated support, may we have your help in achieving our goal? Levels of suggested support are listed on page 121, but each organization is free to con- tribute what it believes is merited, either more or less than the suggested level. Thanks!
As noted in the report of 1997 activities, the Board of Directors believes that the Institute should become open to broad financial support by individuals— those who participate as volunteers and employees in symphony organizations served by the Institute, and those who are otherwise particularly interested in the well-being of symphony organizations. To that end, an envelope has been inserted in this issue for the convenience of those who wish to support the aims and programs of the Institute. A contribution of any size will be a vote of confidence in our endeavors.
Institute Activities During 1997
In our second calendar year of operation, the Institute accomplished a great deal!
On the research front, we published Arthur Brooks’ doctoral research findings as the first of the Research Studies Series under the title: “Improving the Orchestra’s Revenue Position: Practical Tactics and General Strategies.” Dr. John Breda completed the collection of data relating to musicians’ psychological distress in the orchestral workplace and, with Dr. Leonard Doerfler, is developing findings which should be disseminated in 1998. With the consent of the International Conference of Symphony and Orchestra Musicians, the Institute began an analysis of conductor evaluation data provided by ICSOM orchestra players over the last decade. This analysis will determine what insights and conclusions might be available from such data. Other proposed research projects were being evaluated as of year end.
In our publishing program, beyond the Brooks research study, the spring and fall issues of Harmony were met with enthusiasm. These issues’ content filled more than 200 pages and included 14 separate essays or reports by 12 authors, and contributions from more than 20 other industry participants or close observers. Some 12,000 copies of these issues were distributed to employees and volunteers in symphony organizations—more than 6,000 copies to board members, other volunteers, and staff employees, and the balance to orchestra players. Copies were distributed to approximately 1,500 individuals in academic institutions, symphony and other related trade and service associations, media organizations, charitable foundations, government arts agencies, and various business and professional groups.
In early summer 1997, under the sponsorship of the Institute, and working cooperatively with leaders and other participants of an important Midwest symphony organization, a professor trained in organization analysis and change interviewed many individuals and observed a number of group meetings to learn how the organization was structured and functioning. With the benefit of this experience, the Institute moved forward with its “ODR” program, placing a few highly selected academic scholars or teams specializing in “organization development” in “residency” with a few highly selected symphony organizations. Two residencies were under way as of year end. The primary goal of the ODR program is to permit resident academics to observe and learn firsthand how a particular symphony institution is organized and functioning, and, through reading, discussion, networking, and the application of general organizational theory and experience, to identify and illuminate generic organizational patterns and processes being followed in North American symphony organizations, and to determine how these patterns and processes impact institutional effectiveness.
As the year closed, the Institute was also exploring the possibility of sponsoring facilitated change programs within selected organizations. Over time, it is expected that various organizational observation and consultation projects will help the Institute develop methodologies of organizational analysis and change which can be adapted to specific organizational settings, disseminated broadly, and which can contribute generally to improved organizational effectiveness.
In January 1997, the Institute established a small office in Evanston, Illinois. By year end, operations were settled in, records and files organized, and publications stored. In late October, the Institute completed a Web site with the Internet address of www.soi.org. Extensive background information about the Institute has been posted there, including the primary content of the first three issues of Harmony and the complete and regularly updated bibliography of writings and research about symphony orchestra organizations.
Early in 1997, the Institute reorganized its founding governance structure by formalizing two boards: a Board of Advisors and a Board of Directors.
◆ The Institute’s Board of Directors has the legal obligation to oversee the direction and operation of the Institute and its longer-term devel- opment and strength, including management succession. During the year, the Board of Directors had three meetings, two formal and one informal. The group was quite supportive as the year progressed and programs took shape. As of year end, the members of the Board of Directors were Frederick Zenone, Richard Thomas, Henry Fogel, Debra Levin, Paul Boulian (newly elected), and myself. Biographical informa- tion about these board members is available at the Institute’s Web site.
◆ Early in the year, the Institute organized a Board of Advisors, with a membership of up to 15. This board was established to gather advice and counsel from a group of persons reflecting diverse role, organiza- tion size, gender, and geographic representation of North American symphony organization participants. Above all, persons invited to be advisors are dedicated to the aims of the Institute and supportive of its efforts in all circles. Thirteen members were appointed as of year end, including Ann Drinan, Paul Ganson, Joseph Goodell, Sara Harmelink, Joan Horan, Libby Larsen, Bob McPhee, William Moyer, Ward Smith, Stephen Stamas, S. Frederick Starr, Gideon Toeplitz, and Hugh Wolff. Biographical sketches of these advisors are also available at the Institute’s Web site. During the year, each advisor has been available for counsel and has been supportive of the Institute’s goals. The Insti- tute is warmly appreciative of the interest and commitment of each advisor.
As the year progressed, many symphony organizations initiated support of Institute aims and programs. At the end of 1996, 17 institutions were supporting the Institute; by the end of 1997, this number had grown to 55. For 1998, we have set a goal of at least 100 supporting institutions.
At its December 1997 meeting, the Board of Directors decided that the Institute should become broadly open to financial contributions by individuals who wish to support its goals and programs. For the convenience of those who wish to provide their support, a mailing envelope is enclosed. Warmest thanks in advance for such encouragement!
We welcome your questions and comments, and your support!
Paul Judy March 1998
Symphony Orchestra Institute Organization Change Consultation
The mission of the Symphony Orchestra Institute is to improve the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations. In many organizations, such improvement will require significant change in the way the organization functions—significant change in internal processes and interactions.
In pursuing such change, an organization will quite often seek professional assistance from an “organization development” consultant or team. Indeed, the Institute may wish to assist selected, interested organizations in identifying and engaging consultants. The Institute may also wish to sponsor or assist some “organization process consultations,” including participation in the funding requirements. The Institute would participate, in part, with the view to developing more institutionalized methodologies which can be adapted to the specific needs of individual symphony organizations.
To this end, the Institute has adopted a set of beliefs and principles to guide “organization change” projects and consultations in the symphony world. The Institute hopes that the following statement of beliefs and principles will assist symphony organizations and consultants to pursue sound organization change programs. This statement is a charter for any consultation projects with which the Institute becomes affiliated.
Institute Beliefs and Principles
Total Systems Approach
The Institute believes that the most effective “help” or support to a symphony organization will occur when the process takes a “total systems” view. All groups within the “organizational system,” including the board, other key volunteers, staff, music director, musicians, their union, and parties representing audiences, general contributors, and the community at large, must be involved in some appropriate way in the process. Thus, the client in any organization change consultation must be the whole system. Every participant and related group involved in the organization must be served, directly or indirectly, as a whole, in an open and honest way.
Common Purpose and Vision
The most effective change for a symphony organization will come about when key leaders of each organizational component are aligned and supportive of a common, shared purpose and vision. The consultant must create processes and systems which encourage a common, shared purpose and vision, and a reconciliation of views when required.
Securing Will and Commitment
Sometimes consultation is required to secure the will and commitment of all parties essential to achieving a common, shared purpose and vision. The consultant may need to work with groups sequentially if this is required to secure the will and commitment of all key parties.
Freedom to Participate
Freedom to participate is key to high levels of involvement in organization change processes, and their eventual success. Those involved in symphony organization improvement processes must participate voluntarily, and have the freedom to withdraw from involvement at any time. The consultant must create processes which always establish conditions for the exercise of free will, but with an under- standing and appreciation of the consequences of the exercise of that will.
Nature of Interaction
Individuals will bring to discussions their biases, history, and concerns as a normal part of working through issues and alternatives. The consultant must develop processes which account for and permit the expression of all points of view and opinion by all participants and groups, but emphasize the importance of engaging one another in a constructive, positive way. The consultant must also develop processes which ultimately will encourage open, frank conversation and appreciative listening.
Shared principles of behavior are key to civil, constructive, positive interaction among people working together to bring about change. The consultant must help the parties develop shared principles to guide behavior.
The Institute believes that consultation will fail when and if it is viewed by one party as a means for validating or confirming a position, decision, or action of another party. All consultation must therefore be pursued with clear nonalignment, and be dedicated to finding a reconciliation of views and supporting the agreed-upon actions of all parties.
Recognition of Legitimacy
The symphony system is comprised of a number of different constituencies, each of which has a legitimate and important point of view and perspective that requires representation in any effective change process. The consultant must develop and support processes which maintain the legitimacy of all constituencies and which will not, through design or intent, denigrate or undermine the position of particular constituencies, individuals, or their points of view.
The Role of History
History is important in understanding the roots of current thinking and behavior, and must be recognized for its contribution to the present. The consultant must utilize history as a learning tool to help all parties understand how to improve current thinking and behavior.
Length of Engagement
What has taken years to establish cannot be undone overnight. The consultant must be engaged for a period sufficient to create a process which is perceived to have long-term impact along with immediate satisfaction of specific issues and concerns. The engagement must be sufficient to generate the energy and momentum which will lead to longer-term success.
Long-term success of any change program requires that the organization develop its own internal resource and support capability for continuous improvement. The consultant must help develop this capability in designated parties and help design appropriate supporting processes so that positive organization change will become self-sustaining.
The greater the interpersonal capability of all participants in an organization, especially those in current and prospective leadership roles, the greater the chance that organizational improvements will be sustainable. One objective in the design and execution of any intervention process should therefore be to develop the capability of all participants, and especially leaders, to work more effectively together.
The chances of success increase when the investment required in a change process is shared equitably by all participants and groups involved. Every effort should be made to create the highest level of shared tangible investment on the part of all key parties, including monetary investment and other investments of time, energy, thought, commitment, and reputation.
Symphony orchestra organizational change consultations will usually be relatively complex, multiparty engagements, potentially involving board members, other key volunteers, staff members, the music director, player committee members and other musicians, including representatives of the local union, and perhaps some community representatives. In such engagements, it is often more effective to have multiple resources involved in the engagement and wherever and whenever possible, to utilize such multiple resources in designing and engaging in the intervention.
In the October 1996 issue of Harmony, the Institute reported that it was developing an “OD-in-residence” program, in which an “organization change” scholar (perhaps joined by a graduate student) would spend a number of days, over a period of months, with a symphony organization, observing various group meetings; completing interviews with many of the organization’s participants—personally and in small groups; studying written material developed within the organization; attending rehearsals, concerts, and other group services and events; and obtaining insights from community leaders about the symphony organization and the local environment.
During this process, the resident scholars would become familiar with the values, beliefs, and goals existing within the organization, as well as with organizational structure and functioning, and with decision-making and communications processes. In addition, the scholars would be absorbing background material about the industry and its environment, and exchanging views with each other. Each residency is intended to foster organizational learning—an appreciation shared by many participants of how the organization is functioning, what is working well, and what issues and challenges the organization faces.
Toward the end of 1997, the Institute established a residency program with two collaborating symphony organizations. We anticipate that these residencies will be completed by midyear. The Institute may initiate other residencies in the fall.
Organization Change Consultation
In addition, the Institute is pursuing the sponsorship of one or more programs of organization change involving process consultation, and has adopted a statement of beliefs and principles to guide these programs (see page xi). As noted in the preamble to this statement, the Institute is intent on developing methodologies for organization change in symphony institutions that can be adapted to the needs and circumstances of specific organizations.
Conductor Evaluation Data Analysis
In another direction, with the consent of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Institute is undertaking an analysis of conductor evaluation data created by ICSOM orchestra players over the last decade, and maintained at Wayne State University. The goal is to determine what, if anything, such data might reveal about various dimensions of orchestra conducting, from the point of view of orchestra players.
The Institute maintains regular contact with a number of scholars pursuing various research projects relating to symphony orchestra organizations.
Extending the Bibliography
Prior issues of Harmony have contained either cumulative or incremental additions to the Institute’s bibliography on the literature of symphony orchestra organizations since 1960. The entire, updated bibliography may now be found on our web site at:
The Jurassic Symphony: An Analytic Essay on the Prospects of Symphony Orchestra Survival
Ecologists study the interactions, relationships, and patterns of settlement of living organisms within their environmental settings. Organizational ecologists study similar interactions among organizations and their environments, using social, economic, and political yardsticks as their tools of measurement.
In a skillfully written essay, authors Robert Spich and Robert Sylvester take readers on a fascinating ecological tour. Robert Spich brings to this essay the perspective of a professor of management and international business; Robert Sylvester brings that of a professional musician and arts administrator.
Tracking the Decline
The essay begins with a discussion of the symptoms of decline in symphony organizations. The authors enumerate what they observe as suspected factors. They then establish a Darwinian ecological metaphor (Jurassic), and a set of ecological assumptions to guide readers through eight ecological propositions applied to symphony organizations.
The Broccoli Problem and Cadillacs
Lest readers think that this essay might be a “tough read,” it assuredly is not. Authors Spich and Sylvester are very capable of tucking their tongues in their professorial cheeks as they select examples to explain serious economic concepts. Using such comparatives as a “broccoli problem” to describe free choice, and a “Cadillac problem” to assure readers that symphony organizations are not alone in experiencing decline, the authors outline thoroughly the current ecology of American symphonies.
This essay is the first in a two-part offering from the West Coast writing team. In a subsequent essay, they will explore a range of strategic choices which symphony organizations have as they fight for survival.
The Jurassic Symphony: An Analytic Essay on the Prospects of Symphony Orchestra Survival
The history of classical music and of the symphony institution describe well the conditions that gave rise to the symphonic musical form. This historical record is less informative about how the fundamentals of the environment and societal culture have impacted, and continue to impact, the symphony orchestra as an organization. In this and a subsequent essay, we hope to contribute to this long history by framing the symphony orchestra’s issues within an organizational science perspective that becomes a basis for managerial action. Specifically, this essay applies an organization ecology analysis to the symphony orchestra community. The ecological perspective focuses on the larger processes of organization- environment dynamics which affect how organizations start, grow, mature, and decline. This perspective seeks to explain how environmental forces help shape the conditions for success or failure of an organization. In a subsequent essay, we will utilize a strategic management framework to focus on how management might address faltering performance and seek to identify realistic options and choices for continued success. Jointly these two organizational perspectives frame the larger problem plot: how organizations can become “de-fitted” from their environments and, in the absence of strategic change, face the probability of decline and failure.
We are hopeful that good music will go on forever, and that people, given the opportunity, will always choose music making over the drudgery of labor. We laud such sane human tendencies. However, we have two nagging concerns: the sophisticated art of the classical musical genre, if it becomes extinct, would not be shared, enjoyed, and cherished by many future generations, and the role which serious and traditional music has had in “civilizing” a society might become irrelevant or lost. In each case, it is not clear what the substitutes might be. For these reasons, the continuation of the symphony orchestra as a vehicle for the intergenerational transmission of musical culture and the development of a civil society should be an issue of wide concern. For the symphony orchestra to remain a major cultural carrier, it must concurrently be an institution “of the past” and “of the future.” The trick is a fit to the times, with tradition, but go toe to toe with contemporary trends. Let us now begin to look at what makes that trick so difficult.
Symptoms of Decline
In any society, the rise and fall of organizations is a fact of organizational life. History itself records similar fates for civilizations, but history does not explain decline directly. The causality is never clear or unambiguous. Rather, as in the rise and fall of Rome, decline theory is a descriptive exercise in which one cites the factors at play during a time period and tries to draw inferences on how those factors contributed to declining performance of a system and its eventual failure. For the symphony organization, a list of suspected factors follow.
- Increased amounts of extra-industry competition for time and attention from easily accessible substitute cultural and technology products.
- Audience aging (shrinkage) and difficult recruitment from younger cohorts.
- Decline in music education budgets and programs in schools, creating a loss of music appreciation and skilled listening discipline needed for audience development and attendance (e.g., theme of the recent popular movie Mr. Holland’s Opus)
- Increased forms and sources of intra-industry competition: location and venue competition; inter-period competition where older rereleased recordings of past masters compete with new interpretations; alternative formats and orchestrations of classical music versus standards; competition between periods (Baroque vs. Romantic); special use after product competing with original intentions (e.g., Mozart for improved learning).
- Market saturation and listener exhaustion through overabundance of musical product in the market and on the airwaves, forcing more and more exaggerated differentiation strategies to gain attention.
- Increased competition for scarce resources from a hostile and stingy public and private donor environment.
- Time pressures and lifestyle stress issues curtailing audience attendance, changing ways in which people use music in their lives (e.g., the ease of listening to a CD rather than the hassle of going to a concert).
- Unequal regional and urban economic development, creating differentials in economic bases of support for the arts (e.g., one city builds a new symphony hall while another lets its hall go unused or be closed down).
- Multiculturalism and diversity pressures for alternative ethnic traditions in music.
- A conservative political climate with leanings against “elite” art projects and government spending.
- Widespread decline of general education standards and performance, affecting the appreciation of the role aesthetics play in the quality of everyday life through the willingness to support artistic activities without practical payoffs or immediate relevance.
- The dominance of “pop” culture in everyday life with an emphasis on consumerism, mass commercialization, and the “mcdonaldization” of individual choice in contemporary society (i.e., everything is for sale, now, quick, cheap, instantly gratifying; everything and everyone has a price, and all is ultimately disposable).
- The apparent contradiction in a democracy between “good taste” and connoisseurship in favor of eclecticism, and inclusion or embracement without judgment or criticism.
These factors—over time, and both directly and indirectly—tend to exacerbate ongoing organizational issues and often overwhelm them with the menagerie of problems. These factors are what ecologists might term “fundamental environmental conditions” which help shape the decision paths that organizations need to take. In most cases, the factors cited exist on a grand societal scale. This means that they are usually part of a longer-term historical evolution of society, the results of various trends and developments, some of which are recognizable and transparent, others of which are hidden in the forces of history and only seen in ex-post analysis. Some factors can be influenced, deflected, or contained by various efforts; others, such as technological innovation, audience aging, the commercialization ethos, and changing contemporary lifestyles, are fundamental and comprehensive. They have large- scale, noncontrollable effects which create a critical decision context for the orchestra management. As we will discuss in our second essay, you can fight them head on, you can steer around them, you can make adjustments to them, but you cannot get rid of them. The trick is to find ingenious ways, whenever possible, to turn them to some advantage, but that is for later discussion.
On a more specific basis, events in the 1996-1997 season alone show some of the more recent symptoms of difficulties and portents of decline that changing environments cause:
- Musicians’ strikes at the venerable Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Portland.
- Politicized confrontations between musicians and management, as in the recent Seattle Fifth Avenue Theater case.1
- Closure, bankruptcy, or near bankruptcy in the San Diego, Sacramento, and Charlotte symphony organizations, respectively.
- The surprise announcement of a possible and portentous merger of the Vancouver Symphony with the Vancouver Opera in 1997, followed by the merger’s cancellation.
- The decline of the market share of classical music from 7 percent in 1987 to about 2.9 percent in 1996.2
- The rise of more contentious issues in nego- tiations, such as classical recording royalties, industry standards for job security, core orchestra size, and the use of medical leave.
- Acknowledgments by management and musicians that “the cuts in arts funding and music education have had a serious, negative effect on the health of symphonic institutions across the continent.”3
A relatively clear record of symphony orchestra failures over the last decade provides perhaps the last corroborating evidence of a decline, as can be seen in the cases of Oakland (1986), Oklahoma (1988), Denver (1989), New Orleans (1991), Florida (1993), Alabama (1993), San Diego (1996), and Sacramento (1996).
Organizational declines and failures such as these can be viewed from two perspectives: external and internal. One can identify a host of factors outside an organization which will explain an organization’s demise. However, looking only at external explanations allows for blame to be placed on “devil” theories, creates passive/reactive scenarios, and provides only selective and incomplete descriptions of reality. More commonly, organizational performance, both good and bad, can be explained from an internal perspective which looks at how well the organization’s leadership understood strategic problems, focused efforts, picked goals, designed appropriate operations, rallied organizational commitment, and addressed opportunities. From this viewpoint, organizational failures result from acts of commission or omission by people who miscalculate, have faulty perceptions, or make blundering errors. Given capitalism’s demands for successful economic performance and a bias toward action, such performance judgments in the for- profit world are often harsh and unforgiving. While business criteria might not be relevant in analyzing cultural organizations, the focus on an organization’s leadership is. Any explanation of a symphony organization’s failure requires both perspectives.
In contrast, explaining the failure of any individual symphony orchestra without glib generalizations requires an in-depth analysis of the internal workings of that organization. Consultant case studies, such as the one done on the demise of the Oakland Symphony,4 provide a rich array of detail which allows a “reconstruction” of the story and the learning of certain lessons about poor decisions and actions. However, individual case studies are unique situations which may not allow easy generalization and may be wrong in their analyses. As for future lessons, one can always dismiss the case situation that does not specifically or favorably reflect on an individual organization’s present situation and problems. For these reasons, it is often better to use a theoretical framework, such as organizational ecology, to help explain the basic forces that may be driving an industry.
An Ecological Metaphor
An ecological perspective on symphony orchestras was inspired, in part, by a drawing that appeared in the arts section of the New York Times.5 The drawing shows an upright conductor, dressed in tails, baton poised, body arched and hands steadied, signaling the orchestra for the imminent downbeat and start of yet another great moment of classical music. While this image is perhaps the most expected symbolic icon of the whole genre of classical music, the background, in the form of a paleontological metaphor, is the more telling message. For behind the conductor appears a Jurassic scene, where dinosaurs stride freely, but often uneasily. On the left, a huge, slow-moving, seemingly content, and perhaps unaware brontosaurus feeds on the abundant greens in a large lake whose shallow, but decreasing, depth is enough to keep the lurking and hunting carnivorous tyrannosaurus on the shore poised, waiting, but still at a safe distance for now. At the same time, sharing the air with a lone pterodactyl, are what at first appear to be strange, asynchronous portents of the future—flying saucers! However, upon closer examination, these discs in flight represent no less threatening an image than symphonic sound in flight, transmitted by the carrier—the CD recording.
The point is poignant and unambiguous: symphonies may share the fate of dinosaurs and CDs may be one of the factors contributing to their demise. The implicit message is that symphonies cannot keep doing what they are doing and expect things to continue unchanged and forever. The risk is the fate of the dinosaur—an extinct species, unaware of the larger forces of decline at work that determined its destiny, still a fascinating beast, but essentially dead!
The science of ecology is the study of interactions, relationships, and patterns of settlement of a group of “living things” within an environmental setting. If one looks at a pond in the woods, the ecologically curious mind wants to understand how things got that way: Why these trees? Why these flowers?
Why these animals? How do they “live and die” together? Organizational ecology (OE) wants to know similar things: Why are these kinds of organizations here? What are their life cycles? How do they interact? What are the important webs of relationships? What determines success or failure of a group? Organizational ecologists “seek to explain how social, economic, and political conditions affect the relative abundance and diversity of organizations and attempt to account for their changing composition over time.”6 Thus, OE begins with fundamental observations:
- There is diversity of organizations in any grouping of organizations as we see in the classical music community.
- Environments often change more rapidly than the organization’s ability to keep up with the changes, thus implying failure and disappearance of an organizational form.
- A community (industry) of organizations is rarely stable because organizations continually arise and disappear, something we see happening in the symphonic organization population.
- With these basic observations, we begin the discussion with some initial ecological assumptions.
First, we treat the symphony orchestra as one particular organizational form within the larger classical music industry. The symphony organization includes the orchestra itself and its supportive administrative apparatus. The collection of organizations that share a genre (e.g., all ballet companies) with common activities and patterns of resource needs and uses makes up an organization population. The mix of populations that reside within the same societal environment, but share differentially in the benefits and problems of that environment, represent an organizational community. The classical musical community can be seen as an ecological network of cultural organizations (e.g., opera companies, chamber orchestras, ballet companies, chamber music societies, choruses, concert series organizations, small ensembles) organized around specific musical genres within a “serious/classical music” denomination, and which share an ethos grounded in a love of a traditional musical form and its public presentation. Relationships among these organizations are largely symbiotic, with some direct and indirect competition for resources. Some synergistic opportunities for cooperative action exist both within populations and communities. Within the symphony orchestra population, there is a certain stability based on shared modus operandi, culture, and tradition. For purposes of analysis, the population of symphony orchestras will be treated as the “symphony music industry,” although this conceptualization has a specific meaning in industrial economics. This helps in the articulation and recognition of common “industry-like” problems.
Second, we make a Darwinian assumption that successful music organizations represent successful adaptations to surrounding environments. In the symphony orchestra case, the “organism of study” is a large beast designed to deliver large-scale, relatively long, complex musical works. Presenting these works requires supportive action and organization of similar nature and scale. At the time of its genesis, the symphony orchestra represented the basic truth that the music of a time period reflects the society within which it resides. History seems to indicate clearly that music organization form follows from function, and function follows human motives and purposes. Thus, we see the varied roles that symphonic music played in everyday life, whether to express the nationalistic fervor of the 1800s, to entertain a coterie of music lovers, to impress royalty and assure one’s social status, to provide an outlet for great and ambitious talent, to educate the masses, to please a wealthy patron, to provide background music for larger social and diplomatic functions, or simply to make money for enterprising impresarios. All of these motives and purposes, selfish and otherwise, helped shape the design of the symphony orchestra. Musical forms and products that are appreciated and useful to members of society will be favored for continued environmental selection and survival. The waltz in the masked ball survives to this day because it serves many more private and public interests than simple musical enjoyment suggests.
An ecological analysis with a Darwinian perspective therefore represents a relatively disinterested, objective, and hopefully transparent point of view. Without judging, it merely asks: What is the unit that is making the adaptation? What are the nature and dynamics of the situation to which it is adapting? It then looks at the dynamics of relationship adjustment, the strategies of survival, and the types of accommodations and changes made. Successful adaptation strategies then are measured directly in terms of the quality of the survival strategy. Survivorship is a necessary but insufficient criterion for judging the value of the surviving experience. Highly successful adaptations demonstrate such characteristics as ready expansions of domain, growth in numbers, diversified set of activities and outputs, ready ability to compete with others, high morale, resistance to “disease,” demonstrated ability to use cooperative, as well as competitive, strategies, and other measures of success that indicate a generally healthy organism or organization.
In following a Darwinian argument, we note that adaptation does not imply superiority or constant progress in a form of music organization. It merely suggests accommodation, adjustment, and fit of a sustainable form for that environment. The common notion of “the survival of the fittest” is just that and no more. There is often an implicit meaning that “fitting and surviving” always results in a superior entity. Thus, to say that a newly formed orchestra “fits the audience” probably means that pragmatic accommodations and instrumentation adjustments were made to make a fit work. There is, however, a common progressive assumption about how accumulative improvements lead to “best states.” But that which “fits” does not mean it is the “best ever” or “highest” form attainable. That the coyote can actually survive in dense urban settings— cities—does not mean it is therefore a superior form of animal. It means that among the many animal groups, it has accommodated to the conditions of city life and found ways to survive and even thrive. Similarly, the survival of symphonic “pops” concerts simply points to the fact that this music is “fitting the environment,” or in business terms, “seems to meet a market need.” It does not indicate the direction that all musical organizations should and will go, nor is it a superior judgment about the quality or desirability of the art form.
That organizations survive in dysfunctional conditions, terrible political regimes, and war says both good and bad things about people and their environments. Survival is merely a statement of fact and not necessarily an endorsement for the future. That certain food stores can survive in centers of urban decay does not indicate that everyone, therefore, ought to shop there. That certain orchestras have survived is not necessarily a ringing endorsement for an organization’s repertoire and style of playing. Survivors are just survivors. That they may have engaged in meritorious action just to survive or deserve special recognition is not the point. Whether they serve as models for the future is. When judgments about the quality or value of surviving organizations are raised, the debate moves to, among other, larger questions of taste, aesthetics, and history. While that analysis moves away from the central question of organizational form and its survival, the issue of the real value of a surviving organization remains fundamental in the strategy question.
In the end, a Darwinian viewpoint challenges what may be contradictory purposes: If the symphony orchestra is not a sustainable organizational form for future times, what forms should the symphony orchestra take if it wishes to survive in contemporary times? If it changes form, will it still be a symphony orchestra? If not, does that matter? Just what do environmental forces “select for”—an art form, an organization, both, or something else? Unlike the coyote, which cannot change its form but must look for favorable conditions in already existing environments, the symphony orchestra, being a synthetic human creation, can change form, as well as place, to adapt. It can also influence its environment. What it will do, however, depends on the goals it chooses, and how well strategy is conceived and executed.
Third, the basic unit of analysis is the population (industry) of symphony orchestras which are the dominant form in the larger classical music industry as a whole. The symphony orchestra shares a common genre, generally noted as “classical” (i.e., based in long-term, large-scale, traditional forms, and often defined as serious and “highbrow” music with certain rigorous intellectual and aesthetic standards). The symphony organization is generally differentiated from other music organizational forms in terms of the intensity of organizing effort and expertise that is needed to produce and support that form of music making.
However, even though these organizations are treated as a collective unit of analysis, what is true for the industry as a whole may not be quite as true for any one orchestra organization. On any ecological dimension of interest, individual orchestras will lie on different points of any normal statistical curve. Some are richer than others. Some have more volunteers. Some have more competition. Based on the premise that symphony orchestras tend to share some commonalities of an environment and are interdependent as a population, one can make generalizations—with the standard caveats.
Eight Ecological Propositions
Given the basic ecological observations above, and assuming the relevance of a Darwinian approach to understanding the dynamics of relationships between and among organizations, we can state some general propositions that may help put the symphony orchestra industry’s issues within a sound theoretical perspective.
All organizations go through life cycles with definable stages of initiation, growth, maturity, and decline.7
The American symphony industry is presently at a mature level of development, meaning that a large number of industry members are roughly in the same stabilized situation at the same time in terms of audience, venue, and programmatic growth. This implies that the music product itself has gone through a development process in the form of product-type life cycle (i.e., the symphony) and has settled into some fundamental basic form that is readily recognizable by an audience. The organization that creates and supports this music reflects these cycles in its own growth patterns. Innovations tend to represent improvements as variations on a theme or additions of features to this basic form and its use. Innovations are within products and not substitutions of product, much like brand competition in the supermarket. As a comparative example, the automobile is a stable, mature, known product in which all innovation is in decorative features, convenience, and cost/performance relationships. However, four wheels, a gasoline engine, an enclosed chassis, and a drive train make up the basic unchangeable basic form. Unlike the case of symphony orchestras, there are still no readily acceptable substitutes for the basic individual car. And unlike the automobile, symphony music is a comparative luxury product, subject to discretionary spending decisions. It is not a basic staple or needed purchase.
If this same industry reasoning applies to symphony orchestras, then we can see them as part of a minimally competitive industry where the strategies are still “gentlemanly” and “clubby” in nature. Somewhat reminiscent of the “Big Three” in Detroit, the symphony industry has settled into a mature oligopoly stage where a limited group of known great urban orchestras make up the “big industry players” who provide the bulk of yearly symphonic products. Innovations in orchestra seating (e.g., as in Stokowski’s experiments with orchestra seating to change sound), venue, setting, or programming represent the yearly “model” changes that we see in Detroit. In order to extend their life cycles, orchestras, much like other industries, engage in limited innovations and constant manipulation of the marketing mix—price, product features, and promotion— in order to reach larger markets, sustain share, or build new segments. As in the automobile industry, these actions yield mixed results and do not guarantee survival of any individual firm.
Most industries experience competition from regional, national, and even international players. Some—for example the newspaper industry—are characterized by a few local competitors. Symphony orchestras, however, tend to have monopoly status in which each symphony has a claim to a specific urban environment and there is generally no direct competition in the marketplace. In fact, when on tour to other cities, symphonies make cooperative arrangements to “fill in” rather than compete, in the belief that a variety of orchestra sounds helps sustain market support and growth which benefits all industry members. This may reflect an implicit cooperative survival strategy.
However, as is recognized in strategic game theory, oligopolies tend to have a dilemma.8 Individual organizations can choose to innovate and compete strongly with other industry members or they can go along with general industry practice. If they choose to compete strongly, they risk the possibility that other competing organizations will react either irrationally or with strategies that are costly to match. This leaves every industry member worse off, and the victory in the marketplace is Pyrrhic in nature. However, if the organization chooses not to compete, to forego an innovation or market advantage, it loses the potential individual gains it could have received through larger market share (often at the cost of others). However, by maintaining the status quo, the organization uses fewer resources by only competing on the margin, with small changes and limited innovation. There may be tacit, low-level competition, enough to sustain the industry but perhaps not enough to create important innovations.
Oligopoly-like conditions induce a sense of collective well-being in the status quo, and the perceived need to change becomes minor, marginal, and local at best. This suggests that symphony orchestras, as an industry, may be avoiding innovation and change because they know that the others, sharing a classic culture, will not compete fiercely and that the status quo is an acceptable strategy. However, they forego the possibility of gaining appropriable organizational advantages which might have increased their individual chances of survival. The long-term effect of this cultural conformity is to reduce variation among the population members and to increase their collective vulnerability to sudden changes in the environment. If all behave in the same fashion, they make themselves collectively vulnerable to competition that does not play by the same rules. We note that the U.S. automobile industry shared such false notions of common well-being until the external shock of international competition, playing by very different rules, created havoc in traditional markets. It took 20 years to catch up and adapt to what is essentially a fiercely competitive market now.
Industry homogeneity indicates low rates of innovation and variation of form, and thus, low differentiation between members.
We can readily observe that symphony orchestras are fairly homogeneous in structure, process, and output. In a sense, orchestras are all members of the same species. There is little variation or differentiation of organizational “genetic code” among the symphony “family” members. Ecological theory suggests that variation in form increases the probability that, in the face of challenging conditions, some members will survive to carry on, into the future, important aspects of a traditional organization form.9 With low inter-organizational variation, significant changes in a common socioeconomic environment (e.g., aging audience, low recruitment of new cohorts) then could—assuming conditions hold steady—lead to the increased probability of large-scale simultaneous industry-level downturn and eventual organization failure. Variation, then, is an implicit and unconscious cooperative strategy that spreads the risk of failure among a population of organizations. But if there is resistance to innovation, or if structural/cultural barriers act to prevent change, industry homogeneity, instead of being a proud show of cultural discipline and unwavering tradition, in fact could really indicate an unfavorable state of affairs. If differentiation is a critical strategy for survival, then homogeneous industries face more significant survival problems in turbulent and changing environments.
The resource balance between organizations and environments is a dynamic equilibrium which can be disturbed by purposeful intervention, with both negative and positive consequences.
The argument here states that the “saving actions” by symphony boards and stakeholders may have contributed to a larger than “natural” number of symphony organizations surviving at the maturity stage. Managerial action intervened into “natural” market selection processes, lowered the number of industry exits (failures), and has led to a “bunching” effect at the mature level of the cycle. Assuming that bunching is an abnormal occurrence, a return to a normal probability distribution will send a large number into the next stage, which is decline and probable industry exit.
A conservative observation would cite cause in overly optimistic government programs and foundation support that may have led to an “unnatural” growth of symphony orchestras in the 1960s, more than the “carrying capacity” that a “natural” market environment could bear. The failures of orchestras may really represent an expected natural adjustment process whereby market selection processes are, in effect, “weeding out” the weaker industry members. The effect is to reduce overall numbers and bring back a more “natural balance” with the conditions of the environment. The environment should then be able to support a more reasonable number of participants, and the lives of the survivors will be markedly better off, because there will be more resources for them to share and sustain their activities. This kind of equilibrium thinking is the very basis for policy analysis and decisions in renewable resources industries (e.g., forestry, fishing, agriculture).
In the case of cultural organizations (among others), human intervention into “natural processes” is a basic and constant factor which prevents “natural selections” from occurring easily. Like all analyses of this type, there are assumptions and models that may not fit the case of any one industry perfectly. In fact, such interventions may themselves in fact be considered “natural” under a different set of assumptions and models. However, as a general principle, the balance between resources (the carrying capacity of an environment) and the demand for those resources remains a dynamic-equilibrium phenomenon. This is a silver-lining argument that symphony boards probably know too well and players not well enough!
The relationship between artist and patron audience is symbiotic and functional in the early formation of an organization, but that relationship can become increasingly dysfunctional if it creates barriers to change and adaptation during later cycles of organization development.
We would note here two levels of relationships: that of the patron audience, and that of the single patron who supports a particular artist’s development. With regard to the former, critics have observed that even though mature sectors of the population tend to support the arts at higher rates than the younger population, they are also the ones most resistant to innovation in programming. As one critic put it, “So many subscription evenings read like holding actions: attempts to head off the flight of wary listeners. Almost every orchestra practices the tactic of punishment and reward: a difficult pill followed by an ice cream cone. Distasteful as it is, no professional can avoid this strategy and still survive.”10 The point is, that in order to get the audience to listen to the new music which requires more concentration and is less immediately rewarding, orchestras also must offer a palette of “oldies” that the audience knows, believing that such traditional music is what it really paid for, and that audiences merely tolerate the new instead of embracing it. The audience learning rate thus becomes a barrier issue in adaptation and survival.
With regard to the latter point, the relationship between a single patron and an artist has a long history subject to much differing opinion. From an ecological perspective, the point of interest is that there seems to be a fundamental symbiotic relationship that is functional, based on real legitimate needs, and this relationship contributes to community collective interests and survival. In a sense, there is a micro-market for the two parties’ needs. For the patron, there is an outlet, both vicarious and real, for his or her own desires to contribute to culture and the arts through resource donations, payment for services, collection, critique, public presentation, and adulation/appreciation. For the artist, there are ego, aesthetic, financial, and social needs that can be nicely met by the patron arrangement. Society is served because the relationship may in fact serve an important “incubator function” whereby new ideas and innovations can be tried out in relatively safe environments (stable individual taste versus fickle public taste) until ready to be supported on their own merit by a larger audience. In modern times, it is not clear how well the function of these patron relationships is being cared for by public support programs. An important source of industry innovation and variation, perhaps important for long-run survival, may be dependent on this dyad relationship.
In a variation on an Orwellian theme: All orchestras are equal but some are more equal than others!
While each orchestra shares common general industry conditions and shares common organizational design, all symphonies do not share the same probability of decline or survival because their environments may be quite different. Some are more supportive than others because of very specific local and regional environmental differences. Since there is no direct industry competition, each symphony organization is free to draw support from within the limits of its local or regional urban environment. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra draws its immediate audience support almost entirely from the Washington DC/ Maryland region, not from California or Florida.
Survival rates will depend largely on local conditions which are neither evenly distributed nor constant.
The munificence of an environment then depends on a combination of the “natural economic endowments” of location (the existence of plentiful or scarce resources, abundance or dearth of opportunity) with the “economic competitiveness” of that region (e.g., institutional arrangements, talent pool, strategy, leadership). Together these two variables create different rates of regional economic growth, and fluctuations of economic cycles in regional industries (e.g., oil in the Texas region, hi-tech in the Northeast, electronics and informatics in Silicon Valley, software and airplanes in Seattle).
Economic success and upbeat growth cycles in turn directly affect the availability of resources for cultural products. Since cultural products are often seen as luxuries, they are the first to “get cut” from budgets in times of economic downturns. A region that is experiencing growth and shares a sense that “times are good,” will more likely provide support for cultural institutions and their activities. Thus, while some symphonies have closed their doors in recent years, others (e.g., the Seattle Symphony and Los Angeles with the new Disney performing arts center) are getting new and often magnificent buildings. There may be no justice in this uneven spread of good environments, but then ecology is not about justice.
However, variations between environments themselves may give rise to variations of organizational form which, from the perspective of ecology, is a positive condition. Environmental differences help explain why failure is not necessarily an across-the-board phenomenon. A region that has fewer resources may still pursue the development of a local symphony organization. However, these organizations will necessarily differ in such important organizational features as size, talent, programming and repertoire possibilities, schedules, venue, and marketing effort. While they cannot reproduce the sound or tradition of the great orchestras for which much of the original music was written, they can mimic that art in a manner appropriate and fitting to the local environment’s needs. Mimicry has value as a survival strategy in nature.
One example of the workings of local variation may be the network relationships between major urban symphonies and surrounding satellite community orchestras. This is a variation of the center/periphery network problem, where the center tends to be the dominant player and the periphery plays a secondary role, “enjoying” the lagged effects of the outward flow of innovation, resources, and power. A case in point may be the New West Symphony located in the suburban valley region of Los Angeles. This new symphony takes advantage of its location to attract underutilized urban musical talent in innovative, market-driven programs which seem to promise a stable future.11
A second documented case, that of the Oakland Symphony, shows that environment alone does not determine survival. In that case, the combination of not understanding the changing environmental conditions, coupled with weak strategic analysis and choice, led to this failure.12 When its program was sufficiently differentiated from that of the San Francisco Symphony, the Oakland Symphony apparently thrived because the supporting public could differentiate between the programs and support of each, because different market tastes were being addressed. Once a change in the strategy lead to a “muddying up” of the distinctions, the audience could make immediate comparisons and chose programs of apparent higher value. If mimicry was the strategy, it did not work. Of course, the real story requires a much deeper explanation drawing on other factors such as the location of a venue in the center of a lower status city, the failure to develop a local audience, dependence on traditional conducting talent, problems in board selection, and the mishandling of a musicians’ strike. All of these actions exacerbated the situation which eventually lead to the failure of this symphony organization.
Where internal practices and the organization culture of the symphony organization lead to low differentiation, susceptibility to failure increases.
One way in which symphonies can vary and be uniquely differentiated is in the distinct sound that they produce. It has been argued that national culture differences produce differences in sound and style, making it possible to talk about a distinctly English or German orchestra. In addition, distinct sounds are produced through the long-term shaping of an orchestra under the baton of a single maestro. George Szell, after a lifetime with the Cleveland Orchestra, was able to create a singular sound and style, as if the orchestra was his instrument. Similarly, Eugene Ormandy created a certain silky sound for the strings and gave the musicians enough interpretive room to be expressive. Thus, they could excel at playing romantic music. Similar differentiations of sound and style can be identified for most of the great conductors. But central to these unique sounds was the long-term and constant residency of the conductor who had the time and interest to learn about the skills and nuances of players, and to shape the sound and style carefully over time. In a sense, the conductor put a signature on the music and essentially created a “brand.” From a strategic perspective, these orchestras acquired unique and inimitatable advantages. Since these specialized competencies could not be readily copied, the value of orchestra sound and style differentiation created market advantages, and the orchestra could realize the full market rents generated by its unique qualities.
Under contemporary conditions, the ability or the practice of developing a unique orchestral instrument seems diminished for a number of reasons. For one, the short-term and multiple simultaneous residencies of “conduct and run” maestros does not allow for such differentiation to be developed easily. In addition, differentiation in sound and style is diminishing because training is increasingly universal and standardized, producing an instrument that is more homogeneous and universal. With small differences in instrumentation between the orchestras, due to cost factors or repertoire choice, the ability to create a unique sound is further diminished. If the listening public does not know how to hear and appre- ciate distinct qualities, then its willingness to invest in multiple versions of works (in concert or recorded form) is greatly reduced. It will accept either a recorded copy of a “known older great” orchestra or it will be indifferent to quality differences and consume the standard fare. ( Naturally, this would occur less frequently, since mediocre performances provide less listening pleasure, and the marginal value of each new piece decreases overall enjoyment of the genre.) The result is to reward mediocrity in the long run as tastes diminish because of a downward cycle of negative feedback between audience and orchestra. This situation mirrors the competitive problems of the fine wine-sector of the wine industry. Teaching people how to appreciate and distinguish subtle differences in fine wines takes time and constant investment in messages and marketing strategies designed to get them to move “upscale” to the better product. Thus, we see that internal differentiation can contribute to long-term survival because of the advantages it creates in the marketplace.
In cultural organizations, the maintenance of tradition poses a particularly thorny and core strategic survival problem.
If all members carry on the same traditional culture fully and simultaneously, they expose themselves, en masse, to higher risks and rates of failure, if knowledge of and tastes for that cultural tradition weaken. Tradition can act as a conservative force that prevents or reduces variation and thus increases the probability of failure. In effect, this raises the issue of whether or not symphony orchestras are really “museums for museum music.”
If, on the other hand, symphony organizations eschew tradition in favor of individual survival strategies based on strong and high variation (e.g., very mixed programming and changes in ensemble configuration), then the distinct industry character becomes so differentiated and dissipated that its unique historical identity, thought to be important to its survival, disappears with the loss of a valued tradition. Critics and others have observed that even though mature sectors of the population tend to have more disposable income and/or time for cultural product consumption, they are also the ones most supportive of tradition and resistant to innovation in programming. Yet their economic support is needed to keep many symphonies alive as working organizations. If then the industry shrinks, certain advantages of large-scale and deep audience reach can be lost, further feeding a decline cycle.
Left to random choice of individual orchestras, then, it is not clear that what survives will constitute a valued core of important tradition. What continues as a cultural industry is then merely a random collection of survivors which constitute no unique cultural tradition or societal statement other than the fact that they survived market demands and other opposing forces.
Repertoire choice, however, depends on the approach and criteria used in judging a tradition. Is tradition a discrete phenomenon or is tradition a continuum? The whole struggle to keep one foot in the past and one in the future at the same time leads to some rather confused interpretations in the use of traditional culture for modern needs.
A case in point from the popular press is the use of “classical music” as a noxious stimulant to keep teenagers from hanging around stores. Apparently convenience stores have serendipitously discovered that playing classical music through outside speaker systems tends to disperse teenagers because they find the music unattractive, and perhaps even bothersome and irritating! Most likely, the music does not match their youthful energy and creates an internal “off beat” friction. Thus, they move on to new settings. In a second case, the governor of Georgia wants to propose, as part of the 1998 state budget, a project that provides classical music CDs to parents under the theory that “having that infant listen to soothing music helps those trillions of brain connections to develop.”13 In a final case, Penn Station in New York City broadcasts a continuous cycle of Baroque music in its newly fenced-off seating area for travelers. This serves to sedate stressed-out travelers. It also provides a consistent sound background against which travelers perhaps more clearly distinguish and pay attention to train arrivals and departures. But another purpose, as with the new fenced-off area, is to separate and protect travelers from unwanted contact with vagrants, mendicants, bored teens, and other folks who hang around train stations. The background classical music helps keep those separations and social distances. One can imagine Haydn’s reaction to hearing that his music is used to drive people away!
The “choice” question leads to a difficult policy challenge in a free society: How important is tradition for the survival of a society? And if tradition is important, what is the best way to preserve it? To the first question, we simply reflect on personal experience and a limited knowledge of history to argue that tradition is indeed important for the formation of identity and motivating a larger
sense of purpose and commitment to life and society. People with a solid sense of themselves as a people, reinforced by tradition, seem to be happier, healthier, and more likely to survive difficult times. It is interesting to note that tradition, and especially a tradition and skill in classical music, contributed much to the survival rates of Nazi death camp prisoners.
The conservation of tradition presents a very difficult societal problem which has no final solution. Ecology suggests that it is in the collective interests of the industry to support the variation that tradition often resists. Yet, in open markets with free competition, the limits of that differentiation cannot be known a priori
and centrifugal tendencies toward chaotic individualistic developments that threaten a tradition’s collective interests are real. Tradition, and its institutions, seems to serve as one of the centripetal forces to prevent such market-induced “chaos of taste and value,” yet tradition does not seem to have a “natural” mar- ket. Present markets are a mass phenomenon, fickle, subject to trends, quick to tire of a product, capable of being manipulated through advertising, and representing no deep judgment of connoisseurship. To a society’s leadership, the question is then raised: do you entrust your society’s cultural traditions to markets?
Markets may not be the most effective mechanism of choice to preserve traditions and the organizations that support them. They are, however, relatively efficient mechanisms for reflecting present choice in the allocation of resources through a price mechanism.
If the decision is left to open and free markets, present trends indicate that markets may fail to conserve tradition. Unless assiduously developed, the “classical music tradition” market will shrink in the face of competition from contemporary products and a new ethos in taste. In a sense, there is no long- term sustainable market for tradition per se.
In 1996, one music critic observed that “a tradition is treated as just another trend ready for replacement. . . . There is something amiss in these efforts to treat a tradition with no more seriousness than the latest passing fashion. . . . There is no direction or goal, no past to give context to the present.”14 These comments underline the crisis of tradition in symphonic music. In a consumerist, market-oriented society such as the United States, tradition has to be “sold” and get a continuing “vote” in the marketplace. But in order to do that, the tradition has to be made appealing to contemporary needs, thinking, tastes, and habits. But if it is to be made contemporarily appealing, it cannot remain a tradition.
Since the age of empire and kings has given way to more representative societies, the modern tendency is to use markets to conserve tradition. No longer are exploitative taxes and outright taking so readily legitimate to create the surpluses to support royal tastes in music. But markets are proving a difficult mechanism for cultural organizations to master. In fact, responding to broader markets may make the concept of classical music tradition a moot point. But if, in fact, markets do fail to conserve tradition, one could use non market mechanisms such as representative hierarchy (in contrast to royal individual and exclusionary hierarchy) to make decisions about the conservation of tradition. Recent research shows that government subsidy for industry research and development yields large-scale societal benefits. Such subsidies have been offered because they “offset what is widely viewed as a systematic failure of free markets to allocate adequate resources to research and development.15 That same issue is perhaps the crux of the debate today about the public support of all arts efforts.
Through hierarchy (e.g., such formal organization as a commission, a bureau, a selected group of decision makers as in the NEA) there could be a conscious allocation of common resources and responsibility to specific organizations to carry on designated parts of the tradition. For example, the New Jersey Symphony could be designated as the formal societal storehouse of all of the Polish symphonic music tradition. But hierarchy can present a serious problem of contradiction to a free society. It presents the possibility of choice limited to a central authority-controlled process; involves complex and often non transparent decision processes; uses specialized, inaccessible, obscure, and often self-serving criteria in making judgments; has a non voluntary tax system to secure resources; often requires “side payment” incentives to motivate compliance; is corruptible itself; requires a justice system to hear complaints of unfair treatments; and often pays “wasteful” subsidies to take on this storage responsibility that may only be indefinitely sustainable and of long-term dubious value. Hierarchy then presents some difficult tradeoffs when considered as a mechanism for the conservation of cultural traditions.
The Broccoli Problem of Evaluation and Choice
There is a common cultural conundrum of free choice: given free choice, most people would not choose to support (i.e., pay for) a tradition which they neither share nor value highly. To spend money on something you do not want would be considered “irrational,” an anathema to cherished notions of rational economic choice. People generally do not “buy tradition,” even though there may be benefits for them that they do not know about or which take the form of an indirect contribution that benefits them. Tradition, such as the Fourth of July, often gives a shared public sense of stability in a common history. This creates a bit of the “Broccoli Imperative”: Eat it because its good for you whether you like it or not! This problem of cultural carryover has parallels in other cultural organizations, including museums and libraries.
In part, the problem is one of evaluation: how do people come to know and appreciate that broccoli is good for them? It may be that the mechanism and process for evaluation may be imperfect or inappropriate. People simply do not know how to evaluate a tradition—“put a price on it”—even though they may like the idea. Often it is after the tradition is gone or dying that people come to remember and value it. To train people in an evaluation process ideally requires that they learn basic criteria and a methodology to later be utilized in making their own future choices.
Training people to make choice decisions via market and exchange mech- anisms alone is most likely only a necessary, but insufficient, means of developing a people’s evaluation capabilities. Markets allow practice in choice and evaluation. But that a “market clears,” in economists’ terms, does not say anything about the quality of the consumption experience nor the inherent value of a product. It merely indicates that what was offered was purchased under a variety of conditions. Ex-post interpretation of those purchases becomes the stuff of much marketing analysis and the equivalent of commercial witchcraft. Symphony ticket purchases, while much appreciated, might not really indicate good evaluation outcomes.
Corporations have learned well from changing audience behavior. They realized that people do not “naturally” know how to choose between a Toyota and a Citroen; that people often make irrational and impulsive decisions; that information cues and persuasion can be both blunt and subtle tools for “facilitating” (steering) choice. They know that markets are artificial creations that divide and segment people into categories so that they can be “taught” market choice in more efficient and effective ways. What else explains the absolutely huge expenditures in corporate advertising? These expenditures are, in fact, huge market teaching efforts that attempt to create new consumer habits channeled into brand traditions. People are taught the problem and the solution simultaneously in a brand of product (e.g., dirty stains and soap X). They are taught criteria (e.g., price, color, taste, value, speed) with which to make choices, and are even taught to feel good about those choices so that they might repeat them. It is competition, and probably survival, that leads corporations to spend enormous amounts of resources, time, and effort in establishing brands (creating favorably biased consumer buying patterns). In essence, they are trying to constantly and purposefully create “consumer traditions” around their product offerings. Competition in markets is really competition between habit and tradition makers—habit establishes the consumer skill in choice, tradition reinforces the choice as a good one. So establishing brand superiority can really be seen as the biased teaching of private traditions. Getting private traditions into the domain of “public tradition,” of course, is the next step in becoming a secure, cherished, and long-term surviving organization. Though one might lament the madness, there is method in trying to make the Super Bowl a “cherished American tradition.” The 1998 billion-dollar television contracts for the right to broadcast professional football games underscore that point.
For arts and cultural organizations, difficult economic times often lead to a tendency for short- term folk wisdom to take hold of critical faculties. Most organizations simply want to “take the money and run” or “not look gift horses in the mouth.” “If the show is selling tickets,” so the thinking goes, “don’t ask questions because you probably are doing something right!” All that may be true, but it would be hard to argue that development of a music tradition and its organizations could or should be based on the movement of market sales alone. Again, all of the activity of corporate brand-making points to a much more sophisticated and complex process of audience teaching and learning. Market sales are only part of the story.
In contrast, the world of cultural organizations seems to have a different process of tradition making simultaneously at work. It is based less on market choice models than on organization hierarchy models that we might see in music conservatories or public school music appreciation programs. Non market methods by which a political tradition is often established may provide some insights into how instilling tradition prolongs survival.
The whole notion of “training a free people for democracy” reflects this very contradictory problem of hierarchy versus market choice in an open society. Democracy may exist as a natural thought to all peoples of the world. But in becoming praxis, it generally must be formally taught as a value-based governance system. It comes into being and its fundamental notions get rooted through the hierarchy of schools and the discipline of repetition, good examples, and long, hard practice. In this training, competing models of societal governance (e.g., communism, fascism, or capitalism) are often presented as weak or bad alternatives from which to learn the criteria for good choice. Getting the basics down through rote learning and memorization is quite acceptable. Individual choice is subordinated until a useful ideology and practice comes to form a tradition that dominates the intellectual discourse and everyday practice of decision making. Once “trained,” or better, “socialized,” people can then make a free choice which might actually include rejecting the very culture for which they were training.
Even democracy, at least the U.S. style which cherishes individual freedom, is borne by certain necessity of discipline through organization. The same tradition taught through the freedom of markets alone may yield only a shallow citizenship in which political freedom is equated with a freedom to consume the celebratory paraphernalia on all the major holidays. The lesson in the modern world may be that ideal systems start with free ideas, but eventually must take on form through organization, which necessarily but temporarily limits individual freedom.16 And it is here that important parallels and lessons exist between the learning of a music tradition and the learning of political traditions. It shows that there are alternatives and supplements to the markets-alone strategy of tradition making.
A musician’s education often begins in a formal conservatory and in the learning of the theory, structure, history, and aesthetics of music. There is a need to learn the basics first, and learn them by the rote of hard practice based on accepted theory. Opinions and aesthetic judgment come first from teachers who set the criteria for judging future musical endeavors. Good and bad music is distinguished early. Music itself cannot escape the strictures and constraints of organization. Music always starts with an aesthetic idea, but must eventually take form in a structure on paper. That structure is dictated by the necessity to use the organization of a common system of notation to communicate aesthetic intention and technique. There is nothing particularly “free” in that early education, and all learners quickly come to understand the value of organization in learning. André Previn once noted that it is absolutely necessary for a musician to get technique down first so that it becomes second nature when creating new music and extending the boundaries of convention.17
Orchestral musicians, perhaps more than any other professional group, naturally understand that creative freedom comes through self- and organizationally sanctioned limits to individual freedom in the learning of an art. Once learned, the freedom to express is unlimited because there is responsibility to express within the limits of a commonly understood and shared system of aesthetic values. By its very nature, performing music must be a cooperative venture among musicians who understand the need to produce collaboratively. By extension, it is also a cooperative venture between musician and audience whereby, without the latter, music exists without a societal role, depriving it of a certain legitimacy. One can argue that if traditions are prolonged through organization, there should be no difficulty in including music in any endeavor to consciously maintain and prolong tradition through organization and hierarchy, rather than through the unfettered choice of consumer markets alone. If there is a lesson in this markets and hierarchy controversy, it seems to be that both are at work in all organizations, private and public, that seek both to grow and survive in contemporary society.
Americanization and Tradition
In asking whether it matters “whose tradition is being preserved,” we raise the possibility that we are really facing a much larger cultural-cycle issue, one that points to the role that internationalization, multiculturalism, and “Americanization” of the symphony orchestra play in shaping the future for this music.
Internationalization is a complex process by which a product or service becomes available to global markets. However, the process of internationalization presents hugely difficult challenges for corporate managers who must deal with the complexities of multiple-environment adaptation. In contrast, it seems that symphonic music and the orchestra have been able to avoid many of these complex problems. Traditionally at least, they went international as part of the colonial movement, and fared better in that exploitative tradition’s sense of conquest than they might have with a more pragmatic, and perhaps humble, approach of adjustment, accommodation, and adaptation. Symphonic music represented a “civilizing” effect in which it was a vehicle to take a version of Western civilization out to the periphery. As such, it inherits the cultural bias of the colonial tradition and has yet to deal seriously with the issue of multiculturalism.
Multiculturalism, in the U.S. context at least, is a critical viewpoint that questions the dominance of any one national, regional, or ethnic culture in a form of cultural expression. It challenges any colonial tradition that was imposed rather than freely accepted. “End the music of dead white men” might become the rallying cry for diversity and democracy in art-form expression. Diverse non-Western ethnic traditions do have legitimate claims for the public ear and eye. Yet addressing these issues through policy and markets is never easy. Such diversity always runs the danger of “babelization” and cacophony rather than voice and symphony. The effects of a multicultural approach to societal cultural expression has implications beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to mention the centrifugal effects on connoisseurship and the development of a coherent tradition.
The Americanization of the symphony orchestra might indicate the beginning of the end of Americans making great efforts to preserve what are essentially European and “foreign” traditions. The American symphony appears to have gone through the full cycle of a type of parent-child relationship. The European parent brought the tradition to American shores, and developed it here. The American child copied the institutions, practices, values, and mind sets. Over time, Americans became proficient enough that they were “allowed” to play in the parents’ homeland. Now, American players are good enough to stand on their own. If this kind of cycle is at work, then the
“Americanization” of serious music might be the next step. This cycle could repeat in other cultures with the same effect.
To conclude, each society has to decide the “optimal mechanism” for the support of tradition. Treating culture as a public good may provide resources, but it still does not provide an easy answer to the very sticky question of what aspects of culture “get saved.” Debates concerning the NEA versus tradition underline this point. From an ecological point of view, the fundamental question remains: to what extent does the conservation of tradition represent a societal practice that contributes to functional adaptation and prolonged survival of that society itself? Each society must answer that question, and more than once.
A Closing Industry Tale
We close this section with a comparable economic tale from the automobile industry. The situation General Motors faces presents the company with a strategic problem very comparable to that of symphonic organizations. It turns out that the venerable Cadillac, also a strong tradition-driven product, is facing a serious decline in sales.18 From a high in 1978, when Cadillac had a 2.4 percent share of the market with 350,000 units of sale, the brand had declined by 1996 to a 2 percent share with 170,000 units of sale. The problem as presented can again be traced to changes in demographics. As noted in a recent article, “For more that 15 years now, Cadillac has watched its faithful buyers grow silver- haired and age beyond their driving years.” Even with the introduction of three new models over that time period (two now defunct), Cadillac has ended up last in the luxury market. In further response, General Motors came out with the Catera model in order to try and position the Cadillac in a “new money” market segment. However, the younger, “new money” market continues to shun the classic tradition of that car line. One potential customer noted how the dealership seemed “like an old person’s home,” how the salesman was as old as his father and how, in the end, peer pressure prevailed when the person admitted that, “The Catera is a terrific car but I just could not see myself owning or driving a Cadillac.”19
However, industry observers disagree about the fate of this car line. Some suggest that General Motors ought to continue making the car in the same way until the market eventually disappears, and then discontinue the line altogether. Others suggest a radical turnaround with the closure of the Cadillac division and the reinvention of a whole new company, à la Saturn, in order to address the high end of the market. Still others suggest tinkering strategies of training the sales force, better advertising, and showroom changes to revive an old, but still valuable, brand name. Finally, yet others suggest that companies have done turnarounds with their cars, such as Dodge and Chrysler, and that a series of clever strategic moves might do the same for Cadillac.
If there is a parallel between the Cadillac tale and the plight of Jurassic symphonies, it lies in the message that no organizations can take their survival for granted, no matter the glory of their tradition, the quality of their product, the association with former success, or the rightness of their intention. Survival of organizations has always depended on how well they represented the ethos of their times, how legitimate their claims to being a valued tradition stayed, how well they kept their eye on the fickleness and “nowness” of audience taste, and their ability to make constant and effective claims to a flow of resources, whether or not those resources came from elites or broader common audiences. The message of any tale lies in its seeming relevance to the reader. The relevance of the “decline tale” for Cadillac symphony organizations has never seemed so real or so close.
This essay presented a partial ecological analysis of the symphony orchestra industry in order to identify the causes of decline and the sources of challenge that make change so difficult . The next step, of course, is to formulate strategies based on this analysis. That will be the topic of a follow-up essay.
Authors’ Note: This essay is based on a more comprehensive analysis, “Requiem or Renaissance: Renewal and Transformation Issues in the Symphonic Organization.” That document benefited from feedback which the authors received at three professional venues in 1997: the Conference on Management of Cultural Organizations held at the Stern School of Business at New York University in May, the annual meeting of the Association of California Symphony Orchestras held in Pasadena in August, and a symposium held at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Boston, also in August. We particularly thank Paul Hirsch, Bill Starbuck, and Richard Scott for their comments and insights, as well as Bill McKelvy for his guidance in the literature search. We also thank Steve D’Amico, an MBA intern with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, who provided research assistance.
Robert S. Spich is a visiting associate professor of management and international business in the Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles. He holds a B.A. from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, and M.B.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington.
Robert Sylvester is dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts at Portland State University in Oregon. He is also a cellist, and founder of the “Chamber Music at the Guggenheim” series in New York and the “Bellingham Festival of Music” in Washington state. He holds B.M. and M.S. degrees from the Juilliard School of Music.
1 Ritenour, Shawn. 1997. How Subsidies Kill Symphonies. The Wall Street Journal, April 8: 17.
2 Kozinin, Allan. 1996. A Once Proud Industry Fends Off Extinction. The New York Times, December 8: Section 2, 1.
3 Nelson, Florence. 1997. Is This ‘Decline and Fall of the Classical Empire’? International Musician, February: 1.
4 Johnson, Fenton, ed. 1988. Autopsy of an Orchestra: An Analysis of Factors Contributing to the Bankruptcy of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra Association. San Francisco: Melanie Beene & Associates.
5 Cozzolino, Paul. 1996. The New York Times, December 8: Section 2, 1.
6 Baum, Joel A.C. 1996. “Organizational Ecology,” in Handbook of Organizational Studies, edited by S.R. Clegg, Cynthia Hardy, and Walter R. Nord. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. See also, “An Introduction to Organizational Ecology.” chap. 2 in Organizations in Industry: Strategy, Structure and Selection, edited by Glenn R. Carroll and Michael T. Hannan. New York: Oxford University Press.
7 The following three sources define organizational life cycle stages and characteristics, using them as a basis for analysis of strategic choice. Greiner, Larry E. 1972. Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow. Harvard Business Review (August). Harrigan, K. 1980. Strategies for Declining Business. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books. Baden-Fuller, Charles and John M. Stopford. 1994. Rejuvenating the Mature Business. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
8 Porter, Michael E. 1980. Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors. New York: The Free Press.
9 Aldrich, Howard. 1979. “Variation: Interdependence and Autonomy Within Organizations,” chap. 4 in Organizations and Environments. New York: Prentice-Hall.
10 Holland, Bernard. 1997. Faith is the Key, Not Fear. The New York Times, January 12: H37.
11 Jacobs, Tom. 1997. The New West Symphony—Envisioning the Orchestra of the Third Millennium. Performing Arts 31 (4) (Southern California edition): 44–50.
12 Autopsy of an Orchestra. 13 Sack, Kevin. 1998. Georgia’s Governor Seeks Musical Start for Babies. The
New York Times, January 14: 12. 14 Rothstein, Edward. 1996. The Tribulation of the Not-So-Living Arts. The New
York Times, February 19: Section 4, 4. 15 Passel, Peter. 1998. The Tax Credit for Research and Development: Free Lunch. The New York Times, February 5: C2.
16 Wilson, James Q. 1995. “Incivility and Crime: The Role of Moral Habituation,” in The Content of America’s Character: Recovering Civic Virtue, edited by Don E. Eberly. Lanham, MD: Madison Books.
17 New Conducting Attire is Defended by Previn. 1982. The New York Times, October 24: Section 1, 60.
18 Meredith, Robyn. 1997. The Demographics of Survival at Cadillac. The New York Times, February 25: 1.
19 The Demographics of Survival at Cadillac.
Restoring the Ecosystem of American Classical Music through Audience Empowerment
It is virtually impossible to have a gathering of symphony orchestra organization participants or orchestral devotees without having the subject of new music arise.
Board members discuss new music, musicians discuss new music, staff members discuss new music, and audience members certainly discuss new music, often in unflattering terms.
Our essayist, American composer Soong Fu-Yuan, suggests that audience alienation from and indifference to new music is a serious root ailment for symphony orchestra organizations. He opens his essay with a history lesson, reviewing his take on how the new music “ecosystem” has been disrupted.
Reestablishing Respect for New Music
Soong suggests that the only way to reestablish proper respect for new compositions is to give audiences an opportunity to express opinions formally about what they hear—in his words—“audience empowerment.” To this he adds performer selection and logical incentives as principles to be implemented. He then sets a theoretical framework for consideration of the three principles.
Competition is Key
The essay then turns to concrete examples of ways in which the three principles might be applied. Soong outlines a competition for new chamber music, as well as one for commissioning new works for orchestras. He also suggests ways to rethink composer- in-residence programs, and argues that classical music radio stations should also be involved.
The ideas presented in this essay may raise an eyebrow or two. Nothing could make Soong happier!
Restoring the Ecosystem of American Classical Music through Audience Empowerment
Despite an abundance of brilliant performing artists and despite a renewed interest in fields such as opera, hardly a week goes by without some discussion about how classical music is ailing in America: the graying of
the audience, the difficulties of finding new audiences, or the shrinking classical music recording market and the loss of a recording contract by some orchestra. One even reads, from time to time, about the impending death of classical music itself. It is my contention that, indeed, a serious root ailment exists. If not cured, this disease, like a cancer, will cause the demise of the classical music field. The disease is the alienation and indifference of the classical music audience towards new music.
In every other endeavor of performing arts the new and the old stand side by side in a healthy proportion, with the new being the flag bearer. Popular music, movies, theater, and dance are all spearheaded by new creations. Classical music stands alone in operating overwhelmingly on the strength of dead composers. Can it keep on doing so forever?
Even though serialism and the avant-garde of the 1960s and 1970s, whose arid and artificial music drove listeners away en masse and to a state of total apathy, have relaxed their grip, and even though the words “audience accessibility” have been heard everywhere in the last 10 years, audiences for new music have not come back in large numbers. They have remained largely indifferent to new music. Most professional ensembles still present only small doses of contemporary music, amateur chamber groups almost never play contemporary music, and with rare exceptions, specialized ensembles that devote themselves to contemporary music are isolated into small, inbred circles, their performances attended by very few from the classical music audience at large. Why? Because the reforms have been superficial. The true cause of the malady has not been rectified. Despite the fact that a bewildering variety of new music is being presented today, the root ailment has not been cured: the audience had no voice, and it still has no voice.
New music is simply thrown at the audience by the presenter or music director and reviewed only by the critics (or more often, a single critic). The audience’s opinions are never solicited or heard anywhere except among friends. Music organizations care about audience attendance, but they do not seek audience opinion. In fact, many seem to have a deep distrust of the taste and preferences of the audience. The audience is the client of musical organizations. In a free market, the client is the motivating power, the vehicle for growth and regeneration. Therefore, if the system of classical music is to be valid, the audience must be empowered. Clients must be given choices about the products they want to buy, especially new products.
Tampering with and Disrupting an Ecosystem
It is important to realize what happened many decades ago. The classical music world is comparable to a delicately balanced and self-renewing ecosystem that consists of creation, or composition of new music, which provides a constant infusion of exciting new music; re-creation, or performance, which presents new and old music to the audience in beautiful and exciting ways; and regeneration, or audience feedback, which, in turn, provides the financial resources necessary for the nurturing of the field as a whole.
If any of these three components is dysfunctional, the self-renewing cycle breaks down. For example, if a performing group is terrible, the audience will not buy tickets to hear it, thus forcing the demise of that group. If a new composition is terrible, performers will refuse to play it, thus forcing the composer to produce a better composition or give up composing. And if a performer insists on performing a terrible composition, the audience will leave and demand a refund. In effect, an upward pressure for higher quality new works and performances exists naturally within this ecosystem.
In the 1950s and 1960s, some composer-theorists convinced a number of prestigious academic institutions and large foundations of a then fashionable idea: since experimental endeavors aimed at advancement in various fields are not concerned with users in the short term, new music, like scientific experiments, should not be concerned with audiences. These composer-theorists argued that new music should be funded independent of audience support in order to concentrate on the advancement of music, which marched inexorably forward. The institutions and foundations subscribed to that theory and funded experimental new music heavily, and for decades, with no audience support. Thus, the institutions inadvertently disenfranchised the audience and disrupted the ecosystem of classical music.
Composers were no longer accountable to an audience. Their clients were institutions, not audiences. But, unlike composers of yore who composed for the pleasure of a privileged few in the church and the aristocracy, these composers composed for the pleasure of none, for the sponsoring institutions were not interested in hearing music. They funded ideas.
The performers of new music, too, were no longer accountable to the audience, since their performances were underwritten by the institutions. As a result, what audiences liked in new music no longer counted at all. Through the long decades, the initial faulty rationale created a systemic corruption. The illogical practices generated by this corruption go on unabated today. At the very root, the cause of the ailment lies in the collapse of the ecosystem of classical music with its natural incentives, its checks and balances.
High Art Versus Commercialism
Some readers will argue that I speak out of ignorance of the nature of high art. Commercialism panders to the audience, high art does not. Certain forms of music are called commercial music because their purpose is to sell to the largest audience. If we cater to the audience, classical music will no longer be a form of high art. It will become commercial music, these readers will say.
Let’s compare a television commercial jingle with a Chopin ballade. I think no one will question which one is high art, and which is not. Yet both must pass the test of audience validation. The fact that both Chopin and the jingle must be validated by listeners does not make them the same. More importantly, the fact that products must be validated by their users really has nothing to do with whether they pander to the users. By this, I mean that unlike commercial music, where mass marketing is the supreme goal, thus making copying, plagiarizing, or pandering to mass tastes legitimate practices, in high art the creator creates something new and inspires the listeners. Chopin’s music was not dictated by a poll of what the public wanted. But he, along with all prophets of our civilization, was validated by the users (listeners), some immediately, some in due time.
Pandering to the classical music audience by some presenting and performing organizations has led, paradoxically, to the decline in concert attendance today. These organizations, believing that the classical music audience prefers to hear only the standard repertoire, decided to give the audience what it wanted. And what was their reward? Dwindling audience attendance. One may compare these presenters to doting parents who grant every wish of their pampered child, only to find that the child is dissatisfied and unhappy; or to the president of a country who, instead of leading the country, takes a poll of the people’s preferences every week and follows them, only to be voted out by the people at the next election.
Three Principles for Reestablishing a Valid System
The principal task of a valid system is to give back to the audience its proper leverage. Only then will the ecosystem of creation, re-creation, and regeneration have a chance to restore itself. In order to provide this leverage, I suggest three principles to be implemented in all programs involving new music. They are: “audience empowerment,” “performer selection,” and “logical incentives.” In discussing these principles, I ask the reader to keep in mind the following analogy: composers, in a sense, are comparable to manufacturers of products that are selected by merchandisers (performers) to sell to clients (the audience). (“Sell”, by its implication of free choice and motivation for improvement, is a very illuminating word, and should not be taken to be an epithet indicating crass commercialism.) From time to time as you read on, try substituting “merchandiser selection” for “performer selection,” “client satisfaction” for “audience empowerment,” and “self-interest” for “logical incentives.” With this in mind, one can easily understand how these principles work together and how they depend upon one another. For example, if I stated “Performer selection makes sense only when coupled with audience empowerment,” a reader might find the reasoning a bit obscure. However, if one interprets the statement as, “Merchandiser selection makes no sense without client satisfaction,” then the logic becomes self-evident.
Audience empowerment is the centerpiece of my thesis. The audience will have leverage when monetary awards, jobs, and performances of new music are tied to audience approval. When this happens, the audience will be empowered. With this empowerment will come wide audience interest and superior new music.
Audience empowerment is the factor that is universally ignored today. Despite the awareness of dwindling attendance at concerts of classical music and all the attention paid to developing new audiences, young audiences, and minority audiences, and despite the hue and cry that new music should be more responsive to the audience, in the American new music world, unbelievably, the audience has yet to be given any voice when it comes to evaluation of new works and awarding of positions and money to composers.
Audience empowerment restores the natural ecosystem in classical music. With that restoration, all elements in the system will work toward survival of the fittest, pushing the whole field upward. Audience feedback, the third segment of the cycle and what provides the economic power of the classical music world, must be restored to its rightful place of power and influence over the first segment, the creation of new music, just as client demand in business affects the manufacture of merchandise.
With audience empowerment as the basic principle, the initial selection of new music should be done by performers. All those who sing, play, or conduct should have a voice in the selection of new music, not just the music director. There are two reasons for this. First, all performers are merchandisers who must present and sell the product to the clients (the audience). If they have a voice in selecting the product, they will present it with conviction and enthusiasm. Second, one individual musician’s judgment of new music may be tainted by either habitual preference for the conservative or indoctrination towards the avant-garde, or anything in between. The collective judgment of many performers will even out these prejudices and provide a good picture of the worth of the music.
Like the merchandiser who gets a commission when the product sells, the selector-performer should get a share of the cash awards for the new composition chosen by the audience. The purpose is to give logical incentives to the performers. The performers will work hard to seek out superior new works and perform them well, if doing so is in their self-interest.
Performers, on the whole, are good judges of new music because they are able to discern the musicality of a given work in an instinctive way. In addition, they are knowledgeable about music literature. They can spot music of novice quality, imitations, and outright plagiarism, and can sense if a piece has something refreshing, exciting, or individual to express. Here is one of the areas where high art distinguishes itself from pure commercialism. Performers, being artists and music lovers themselves, will not knowingly choose plagiarism or pastiche even if they think it would sell well.
Logical incentives are the hidden force that make everything work in any free market. Incentives may be cash, position, recognition, power, pleasure, or just survival. When the system is dysfunctional, there are no incentives to do well, or disincentives that lead to further disintegration of the system. An example: most performers have little incentive to spend much time practicing new music because they feel compelled to devote time to practicing music from the standard repertoire, thereby enhancing their careers. As shown later, logical incentives can work miracles in curing these ills.
How the Three Principles Work Together
The application of the combined principles can generate new programs or be applied to existing ones. These programs should all incorporate the following:
- Put audience empowerment at the root of every program in new music. That is, let all cash awards and commissions be tied to new works or composers that have received audience approval;
- Let the selector-performers share the awards given to the works approved by the audience; and
- Ensure that the composer, performer, organizer, audience, and everyone else involved has logical incentives to do well.
Some Theoretical Considerations
Before offering some scenarios that demonstrate how these principles could work, I want to address some doubts and questions that may have arisen in readers’ minds.
Some readers will argue that in the sciences and other fields, we rely on the guidance of experts, and that if we give leverage to the audience in the choice and rewarding of new music, we will have not only invalid results, but also pandemonium. How is it that I say expert opinion in the new music field is not as reliable as that of laymen?
During the 20th century, there has been a gradual metamorphosis in new music, from the breaking away from 19th-century traditions to newness and change for its own sake—from a musical progress to an intellectual one. When new music became dominated by intellectual considerations, its foundation became totally dependent on the logic upon which it was built. What if there were false links in the logic? The world of new music then would become a house of cards built on an extremely shaky foundation; a house that could collapse at any time. For this reason, experts in new music must possess not only a broad knowledge of facts, but a deep understanding of how music works, and unfailing logic every step of the way.
For a long time, experts told audiences that serialism and the aleatory avant-garde were the flag bearers of Western classical music. In time, electronic music was accepted into that elite company. In the 1980s, many experts accepted minimalism— a system whose philosophy and methods are both diametrically opposed to serialism and avant-gardism—into mainstream classical music. Later, Bang on a Can, combining a post-minimal structure with dissonant sonorities (some call it European minimalism), was similarly accepted. Some critics say popular music is the classical music of the future. Meanwhile, serial and electronic music still have their advocates. Today, just about everybody in music knows that all the theorizing is meaningless.
There is no objective logic running through all of this. There is no consistency, only trends that contradict each other. There is no God of opinion in new music. The house of cards has collapsed.
Music is, in the final analysis, an instinctive and non verbal language that is an essential expression by all people, no matter how primitive or advanced. I think it is more logical to argue that the instinctive understanding of this language and instinctive judgment of its merits (such as that of the audience) is ultimately more dependable than that of those experts who have learned to distrust their own instincts.
The classical music audience’s taste is by no means error free. In addition to individual errors stemming from ignorance, audience judgment varies a great deal depending on personal tastes and experiences. That does not mean, however, that the audience is incapable of choosing a work of merit or discerning a work that has no musical substance. And even though many individuals in the audience may err, it is my belief that today, taken as a whole, they err far less often and seriously than do the experts.
Some may say that advanced music, like advanced science or even an advanced chess game, is too complex for the layman to follow, and hence the small audiences of experts and aficionados are to be expected. But science works, and the advanced chess player wins. Or consider advanced cuisine. The more advanced the chef, the more delicious the food tastes to the layman. Laymen should be able to comprehend advanced music the same way they comprehend advanced pianists and singers; the more advanced the pianists and singers, the more attractive the music sounds to the ordinary listener. I submit that the scarcity of audiences for new music is not because the music is too advanced, but is caused by a lack of what I call “Life-Enriching Substance” (LES) that provides the internal attraction for those who love classical music.
What is LES? It is something that makes one’s life richer and more meaningful. It is not limited to music or even the arts. It is what attracts people to experiences of all kinds, be they baseball games, movies, or walks in the woods. These experiences vary greatly in kind, in depth, and in degrees of pleasure. The enchantment we experience in listening to our favorite music may be quite different from the pleasure of playing a game of tennis. But these experiences attract us because they enrich our lives and make us glad to be alive.
Among the classical music audience, there may be a small number who attend concerts for purely social reasons. However, I believe the overwhelming majority of concertgoers do so out of their love for music. They want to be excited, entertained, or moved. In other words, they want to find LES for that
moment in their lives. I believe that listeners often go to a concert of new music and get bored, not because the music is different, but because there is not sufficient LES.
Sounds become music only when they elicit a typically human response, called a musical response, in the listener or the performer. The love of music requires no intellectual explanation. It is an essential physical element from which all intellectual development must emanate. Listeners stay away
because they do not hear sounds that are music to their ears. For decades, we were so indoctrinated and intimidated by some intellectuals that even to talk about feelings in new music was considered maudlin and somewhat shameful. The primary purpose for writing music is not to contribute to the advancement of music. It is to enrich life through a natural human impulse. Any advancement that is not rooted in this impulse has lost the reason for its own being.
The Three Principles Applied
Let’s now consider some ideas and examples of how the three principles of audience empowerment, performer selection, and logical incentives might work to change the dynamics of the music world. Resourceful organizers, if they agree with my rationale and want things to happen, can think of many more.
To empower the audience, the first task is to learn of its choices. There should be a uniform rating system through which the audience could evaluate all new works. Listeners could thus indicate not only what they think of a new piece, but also how it stands in relation to their favorite pieces in the standard repertoire. They could be polled at each concert where a new work is performed, and the results published. Today, advanced polling methods and electronic devices would make the instantaneous polling, tallying, and summarizing of the results quite possible. Rating systems and devices must be designed so that they are not only accurate, but also are convenient for audiences and organizers alike. The planning and expense would be well worth it, considering that such a plan could bring about a fundamental change in audience dynamics. When the voice of the audience is clearly heard, performing and funding institutions, as well as private donors, can give that voice additional leverage by associating performances, commissions, and cash awards with audience approval. This makes possible the following examples.
A Competition for New Chamber Music
Today many well-known and excellent chamber groups are reluctant to play new music. Scores sent to them are often shelved for later review, which could be years later. From these groups’ points of view the reasons, besides audiences’ spotty attendance and lukewarm reaction, are not hard to see. If they perform the standard repertoire, the review will concentrate on their performance. If they play new music, the review will focus on the new piece. Often the performer doesn’t like the new music and only plays it as a job. Why work hard preparing a piece that is unlikely to be repeated? Why waste time on interpretation if the audience can’t tell the difference?
However, if a large cash prize were to be established at a chamber music festival for the best new work—as determined by vote by the audience—with the prize shared by the composer and the players of the winning work, the dynamics would change immediately. Groups of chamber players would seek out new works from every source, including the unsolicited scores so long ignored, in order to find new music that they feel would have the best chance to win. They would work hard to perfect the piece and make the performance as attractive as possible. Audience interest and enthusiasm would increase greatly. Publicity would naturally surround such a competitive event.
This transformation from the reluctant performer to the active seeker and perfectionist of new music, a virtually impossible feat at present, would be accomplished by giving the performers the needed self-motivation. Audience empowerment is the root of this motivating force. The performers’ instinctive trust in the collective judgment of the audience will make them seek out new music and work hard to communicate it.
Commissioning New Works for Orchestra and a National Competition
In the 1940s, when Bela Bartok was ill and insolvent, Serge Koussevitzky commissioned him to compose a piece of music for $1,000. The result was the Concerto for Orchestra, which has been performed thousands of times since and recorded by practically all major orchestras. Over the last several decades, there have been thousands of commissions to composers. Yet it is difficult to think of any resulting work that entered the standard repertoire. It is clear that for a very long period, the commissioning system has not been producing its intended result. The performances of all new music and cash awards to composers in America are in the hands of very few people, namely music directors, panels of experts, and resident composers who act as new music advisers. There is no accountability for either the commissioned or the commissioner. There is scarcely any expectation beyond the completion and the premiere of the new work. You might say that the merchandise is always prepaid regardless of quality or success. The following is an example of how the three principles I have enumerated could be applied in a national event that would generate much public interest and publicity while incorporating and transforming the commissioning system.
Orchestras in different cities might embark on a three-year program which combines commission and competition. First, they would send out an open call for submission of scores of, say, three minutes of music. All composers would be eligible. All scores, as long as they were clearly written and the parts prepared, would be read through by the orchestra in reading sessions. All orchestra members, as well as the music director, would vote on the works submitted. In this initial screening, most would be quickly eliminated, and a number of pieces would be chosen by the players for better acquaintance.
The composers of these selected pieces would be awarded a small amount of cash (say up to $5,000) and asked to submit a piece or section of a piece of five to ten minutes, to be played in several concerts during the next season. Subscribers would be invited to attend these concerts free of charge and vote for the works of their preference. The players and music directors would vote as well, and their vote would weigh fifty-fifty with that of the audience. The composers of the most highly rated pieces would then receive standard commissions of, say, $25,000 or more from the orchestras involved, with the work to be completed in a year.
These commissioned works would be performed at well-publicized concerts, during which the audiences would select pieces to receive additional large grand prizes. The winning work in each city would then be entered into a nationally televised competition, judged electronically by audiences across the nation, as well as in concert halls. A very large prize fund might be established for the three best works, to be split, say, 60 percent, 30 percent, and 10 percent, and to be shared by the winning composers and organizations. With such events, tremendous public excitement could be generated, and there would be no lack of corporate sponsors.
Some may say, logistical difficulties aside, there just are not that many composers and new works that are capable of exciting audiences to levels that I envision. If the exciting music isn’t there, all the planning and good intentions matter little. I agree that the audience should not be compelled to bestow awards on music that they are not enthusiastic about, and there should be some safeguards in designing the programs. I do believe, however, that there would be plentiful new music that is beautiful and exciting to the audience. In America today, there are more brilliant performers than in 19th-century Europe. It is inconceivable that there is not an abundance of creative talent. How the composer composes is influenced greatly by the people who hand out awards and paying positions. When performers are the selectors and the audience is the ultimate client, composers will adjust very quickly in order to survive and advance. New creative talent will emerge.
Reimagining Composer-in-Residence Programs
Residency programs for composers with orchestras, opera companies, and chamber music organizations should be among the most effective tools for introducing new music to the American public and for encouraging the creation of new works.
Twenty-one major American orchestras participated in the 1982-1992 Meet the Composer orchestra residencies program. The stated goal was to “restore composers to a central role in the life of the orchestra.” After 10 years (by which time the goal was to have been accomplished) funding for the continuation of the residencies was to be provided by the orchestras themselves. At the conclusion of the program in 1992, only a handful of orchestras opted to continue the residency program in their orchestras.
In 10 years, 29 composers composed 65 works for the orchestras, or an average of 2.2 works per composer. Yet they reviewed more than 15,000 scores, or more than 517 scores per composer. Why did they write so few and review so many? The answer is that, because there was so little interest in new music and the residents’ music, the chief job of the resident composer became that of a new music advisor and a virtual gatekeeper for the host organization, a vehicle for rejecting unsolicited scores. In addition, instead of integrating new music into the standard repertoire, some orchestras created segregated concerts of contemporary music curated by the resident composer that, on the whole, attracted only specialized audiences.
Suppose that instead of the above arrangement, each orchestra had resident composers in its midst chosen by all members of the orchestra and the audience, similar to the manner described in an earlier example. An orchestra could team up with its resident composers to participate in nationally televised competitions. The anticipation and excitement of audiences in various cities as they root for their teams would be palpable. Thus, the force of large cash awards tied to audience-judged competitions would strongly induce a total meritocracy in residency programs, such as we see in the most efficient and productive segments of our society.
Engaging the Classical Radio Audience
Classical music radio stations could easily design audience-judged competitions of new works, perhaps held on a regular weekly basis, with cash prizes and repeat broadcasts awarded to the composer of the audience-preferred piece. Listeners could register their votes over the telephone or through the mail. This would be a very good opportunity for classical music stations—especially listener-supported stations—to expand and build new audiences.
And a Word About Opera
The basic symptoms of illness that afflict classical music in general are also present in the opera world. Opera companies rely for their bread and butter on even fewer “war horses” than do orchestras and chamber music groups. No new works have entered the permanent repertoire for decades. In fact, after their premiere performances, new works seldom receive revivals. The creation of new operas is dependent upon commissions which are not accountable to the audience. Using the same principles that I have applied to the creation of works for orchestras, there could also be a variety of innovative ways that opera organizations could involve performers and audiences in the commissioning of new works, which will help to bring attractive new operas into the permanent repertoire.
It should be clear by now that the principles I have proposed are not unusual. Rather, they encompass a return from an abnormal state that has lasted a long time—so long that we accept abominable conditions without questioning, like people who have lived a lifetime under tyranny. The abominable conditions are merely symptoms that will not disappear until the root cause of the illness is found and the proper antidote is prescribed. The root cause is the disenfranchisement of the audience. When the clients’ choices have no influence on a product they use, they refuse to buy the product. That product, which in classical music is new compositions, continues to be produced through artificial financial support without usefulness, as it has been for decades. Right now those in power still stubbornly refuse to know of, let alone pay attention to, the clients’ choices. This disenfranchisement is leading to the disintegration of the classical music system, which owes its existence to past creative geniuses and needs fresh inspiration from the present and future ones. The situation of products without clients should not and cannot continue. The antidote is audience empowerment.
Only through empowerment of the audience can we restore the health of the ecosystem of classical music. In a healthy state, things could be pretty exciting. There would be a constant stream of new music to which audiences flock to listen, because creative genius, more than anything, nurtures the soul of mankind. The principles of audience empowerment, performer selection, and logical incentives will catalyze an important change in the dynamics of the new music society, which ought to be the most exciting branch of the classical music world. We would change from “compose for commission, perform for pay,” to “make beautiful music and get rewarded.” This, in essence, constitutes true responsiveness to the audience. More importantly, it conforms to the ultimate raison-d’être of music. Let’s give it a try.
Soong Fu-Yuan is an American composer who has lived in the United States his entire adult life.
The Leadership Complexity of Symphony Orchestra Organizations
From its inception, the Institute has championed the uniqueness and the complexity of American symphony organizations.1 With more study and analysis of these “complex systems,” it is apparent that the structure
and character of the formal leadership roles within these organizations contribute significantly to their overall complexity.
Some would suggest that the formal leadership roles in a symphony organization merely reflect its unique and complex organizational structure. Others would suggest that the complexity of organizational structure is a result of, if not seriously exacerbated by, long established, widely followed, deeply rooted, and often conflicting leadership role definitions. But most of these same observers would agree that there is a legitimacy and a purpose for each role, arising essentially from the special skills and activities required in the operation of symphony orchestra institutions.
The leadership complexity within a larger-scale symphony organization can be illustrated by outlining the various formal leadership roles, characterizing the organizational service involved, and enumerating the multiple sources of power and authority. The reader will find this tabulation in Table 1.
The formal relationships and leadership roles between and within the board and staff groups in a symphony organization have an outward commonality with the organizational patterns of many for-profit and nonprofit institutions. But these subsystems must then be integrated with the music direction and orchestra, where artistic and collective relationships and leadership functions, between and within, are singularly unique and complex. And we must not forget that the total symphony organization exists in order to foster the art and the work of the orchestra, including its conducting leadership. Even with the shifting mission of many symphony organizations, artistic personnel remain the central human resources within a symphony institution.
The relationship between the formal key leadership roles is made even more complex by their quite different time horizons and service character:
- Short/intermediate-term service purely as a volunteer (board chair).
- Short/intermediate-term periodic service as an independent contractor (music director).
- Intermediate-term, career-oriented service as an administrative employee (executive director).
- Shorter-term voluntary service as a longer-term musician employee (orchestra committee chair).
It is clear that there are many fundamental differences, conflicts, and overlaps in the power and authority, and in the time horizons and nature of service, of the generic leadership roles within a symphony organization. In varying degrees, depending on the specific organization, there can be significant differences in the subcultures and in deeply held beliefs, principles, and values of participants in the different organizational constituencies. And yet, a symphony organization cannot exist without the inclusion of each of these constituencies, and most communities will only support one central symphony organization. And finally, for most participants, there is a common love and dedication to classical music and the symphonic art form which moderates interpersonal differences and provides a strong emotional tie among all participants.
These considerations lead to the conclusion that the participants in a symphony organization are bound together, in tension, whether they like it or not. They have little fundamental choice but to be affiliated with and to work together in the same organization if they wish to be engaged in the highest level orchestral musical activity in a particular community. Traditional use of power and authority by any leader within that organization has relatively little enduring effect given the existence of such diffusive countervailing power and authority within the organization. A symphony institution has no “owner” with whose interests the organization’s governors, management, and rank and file employees can either be aligned with or adverse to, and whose decisions, ultimately, can forcefully resolve tension and conflict, albeit arbitrarily. Left undiscussed and unresolved, all the differences and inherent conflicts in these closed-in organizations can lead to apathy, work dissatisfaction, constrained enthusiasm, nagging anxiety, and undercurrents of concern—feelings which participants in these organizations voice too often.
Some would suggest that the answer to the paradoxical symphony organization is to streamline structure and to redefine, eliminate, or combine some leadership roles. In a very few organizations, some combinations or rearrangements of roles and structures exist. On balance, however, there is a purpose and legitimacy to each of the roles described; different people with different skills must generally fill them; and there are real differences in the work taking place and being led throughout a symphony organization. So the primary goal of organizational redesign is to find ways for people in various roles and groups to work together more informally, cohesively, and imaginatively to achieve greater work satisfaction and organizational effectiveness.
In many fields, the effectiveness of traditional hierarchical organizational structures and management patterns is being questioned. Given the nature and complexity of the symphony organization workplace, including its inherent leadership diversity, it should not be surprising that traditional hierarchical approaches are not working well. A common-sense analysis suggests the need for developing innovative, nontraditional, and more informal and authentic relationships and communications, resulting in much greater levels of collaborative leadership and decision making. The workplace and leadership complexities also suggest the absolute necessity for developing a common shared purpose and vision, and high levels of trust, to guide and bind all leadership behavior. The development of such arrangements and dynamics involves significant, courageous, and willful change for which there are not yet any models in the North American symphony world. Over time, the Symphony Orchestra Institute will be devoting more resources to this challenge.
Paul R. Judy, founder and chairman of the Symphony Orchestra Institute, is a retired investment banking executive. He is a life trustee and former president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Judy holds A.B. and M.B.A. degrees from Harvard University.
1 Judy, Paul R. 1995. The Symphony Orchestra Institute – Precepts and Direction. Also: The Uniqueness and Commonality of American Symphony Orchestra Organizations. Harmony 1 (October): 1 – 35.
Women in Leadership Roles in Symphony Orchestra Organizations
To stimulate more thought and discussion about the leadership complexity and patterns in symphony organizations, we decided to highlight
one dimension of that topic. To concert audiences, it has been obvious for many years that women compose an increasing proportion of the orchestra. Perhaps less obvious is the proportion of women on orchestra organization boards and staffs. And we suspect readers know even less about the degree to which women occupy leadership roles throughout orchestra organizations (at levels which are substantially greater than in most businesses, and many other nonprofit and government organizations).
We thought it would be interesting to hear what women in the key administrative leadership roles in symphony organizations had to say about their responsibilities, tasks, and styles. We thought it would also be interesting to consider to what degree gender differences and similarities affect the ways women carry out these roles, and how women as symphony leaders might compare with leaders in other fields.
So we put together this special section of reports, analysis, an essay, and an interview to encourage readers to think more about the leadership complexity of symphony organizations, as well as the human potential upon which organizations can draw to master such complexity.
We initially determined in which North American symphony organizations women were currently serving, or had recently served, as board chairs, executive directors, and orchestra committee chairs. We then invited six women from each group to participate in our project. Ultimately, five board chairs, six executive directors, and six orchestra committee chairs said yes. As you will learn, these women represent orchestras across the continent, as well as orchestras of varying size.
An editor was assigned to each group—Marilyn Scholl for the board chairs, Sara Austin for the executive directors, and Margareth Owens for the orchestra committee chairs. The participants then completed written questionnaires to provide background information and an initial exploration of their thinking about leadership.
Following receipt of the questionnaires, each editor held individual phone conversations with the participants in her group, and each group then held a conference call to allow for interactive exploration of the leadership topic. The reports that follow represent a synthesis of the thinking that evolved over a period of several weeks.
The number of women currently serving as professional music directors and conductors in North America is small. We were fortunate to have one of these women agree to write an essay on the subject of women as music directors as part of our exploration of leadership.
To further our explorations, Institute staff prepared a quantitative analysis of the numbers of women holding a variety of positions in North American symphony orchestra organizations. And to complete our investigation of this topic, we interviewed Alice Eagly, a psychology professor from Northwestern University, who has spent years researching differences and similarities between the sexes.
The project became more fascinating as it evolved, and we think readers will enjoy perusing what we uncovered.
Fresh Dents in the Ceiling: Women as Chairs of Symphony Orchestra Boards
T he year was 1895, and the “captains of industry” were expanding west the centers of American enterprise. As many cities grew rapidly, the formation of symphony orchestras kept pace. In fact, 16 of the 22 largest
U.S. orchestras were founded between 1880 and 1920.1 The decorative ceilings of the day were tin, not glass, and in the world of symphony orchestras, those ceilings had dents. As the current president of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (you will meet her in a minute) shared, “The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1895, and the first three presidents were women, who collectively served until 1929. Then there was a gap of 67 years until I became president in 1996.”
A quick trip to the archives revealed that the Cincinnati experience was not unique. In Cleveland, Houston, Detroit, and Philadelphia (all cities with orchestras founded between 1880 and 1920), women played major roles as founders, funders, and leaders.2
Fast-forward to 1998, and our research indicates that approximately one in four North American symphony orchestras currently have women chairing their boards.3 These women serve as “fresh dents” in the glass ceilings of the late 20th century.
As part of the Institute’s project on women in leadership roles in symphony orchestra organizations, we invited five women who currently chair their orchestras’ boards to share their thinking about the leadership that these organizations require at the board level. The five came together for a telephone roundtable discussion as the project progressed, and what follows is an edited transcript of that discussion.
Institute: Let’s begin by asking you to tell us a bit about yourselves, your orchestras, and your boards.
Trish Bryan: I am president of the board of trustees of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Our orchestra has 97 full-time members and an annual budget of $26 million. We have 39 board members, plus 6 who serve ex-officio, and 7 trustees emeritus, for a total of 52. There are 16 other women on the board, 3 of whom also serve on the executive committee. The board meets 10 times a year, and I would characterize attendance as very good. I have been involved with the Cincinnati Symphony for 27 years in a variety of roles, and it may amuse some of your readers to learn that my husband does not care for symphonic music. I usually attend concerts with my mother and my sister.
Susan Early: I am president of the board of directors of the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra in California. I am also the co-owner of a commercial printing business in Fresno. Relative to Cincinnati, our orchestra is small, with an annual budget of $1.1 million, and our musicians play on a per-service contract. As many of your readers will know, the Fresno Philharmonic nearly closed its doors in a funding crisis, and while I would describe our situation as still “delicate,” we are no longer deciding weekly if we can continue. Our board has 27 members, of whom 17 (in addition to me) are women. We meet 10 times a year, and generally 25 to 27 board members attend. I must admit that I have been surprised by the huge investment of time that chairing this board has taken.
Shirley Helzberg: I am president of the board of trustees of the Kansas City Symphony. The Kansas City Symphony, as it now exists, is relatively young, having been formed in 1982. In the American Symphony Orchestra League groupings, we are a “Group 2” orchestra, with an annual budget of $6 million, and our orchestra has 78 full-time musicians. There are 18 voting members on our board, of whom 6, including me, are women. There are no other women on the executive committee. Our board meets every other month, and attendance is wonderful. We are in the midst of a search for a music director, and that has taken a lot of time.
Jean Riley: I am chair of the board of trustees of the National Arts Centre of Canada. I also have had my own communications company for about 15 years, and have recently focused on strategic planning and fundraising consulting. My situation is actually quite different from that of my fellow roundtable members, as the National Arts Centre certainly includes a symphony orchestra, but somewhat akin to the U.S. Kennedy Center, also encompasses much more. My appointment is political, made by the government. We are a 10-member board intended to represent the entire country of Canada—with 2 members serving ex-officio—and by statute, we meet quarterly. Attendance is always excellent.
Marie Langlois: I am president of the board of directors of the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra. I am also a partner in an investment management company in Providence. Our orchestra has 75 musicians and an annual budget of $1.6 million. Our board is large, with 65 members, and we meet quarterly. I would estimate meeting attendance at about 70 percent. Currently, women compose approximately 50 percent of both the board and the executive committee. I would note that our orchestra has a long history of women in prominent roles. We have had women as executive directors and managers, and there are many very generous women in Rhode Island.
Institute: Let’s dive right into our discussion of leadership. What are the most important leadership skills required to chair a symphony orchestra board? Jean, you offered a very comprehensive response on your questionnaire. Why don’t you lead off.
Riley: Interestingly, my model, and the best chair with whom I’ve ever served, is a man. When I am looking for inspiration with my own board, I think about how he earned my trust. The keys were his intelligence and his familiarity with every aspect of the operation. I also admired his courage, and his ability to be up front about any difficulty. So I certainly consider those to be important leadership skills. To courage and transparency, I would add an ability to see far ahead, a sense of humor, a very strong intuitive sense of when trouble is lurking, an ability to listen, and, occasionally, an ability to bully!
Bryan: In preparing for this conversation, I made a list, and it certainly includes several things Jean mentioned. One needs to be confident, credible, diplomatic. One needs to be organized, and above all, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I completely agree that the ability to earn trust is important, as is courage. Additionally, one has to be honest, and to have vision.
Langlois: The Rhode Island Philharmonic has a very large board, and one of the challenges is to be a facilitator and to engage other people. The CEOs of many Rhode Island companies sit on our board, and they are used to being in charge. I think a participative style is important so that everyone feels that they are included in the decision-making process.
Early: I made a list, too, Trish. Vision is important, as are listening, information gathering, written and verbal communication, strategic thinking and planning, and honesty. But I think most important for me is to lead by doing.
Helzberg: Answering last leads me to want to just say “ditto”! But I would add to the list having good time management, and by that I mean being considerate of other people’s time, setting agendas, and working within the agreed time frame. I think a board chair must be able to network in the community, know who the players are, and know how to get things done.
Institute: Collectively, you have provided a very comprehensive, useful list. With that as a backdrop, let’s turn to the fact that each of your predecessors as board chair was a man. Tell us how your leadership style differs from that of your predecessor.
Helzberg: I’ve mentioned that the Kansas City Symphony is only 16 years old. There had only been four presidents ahead of me—all men—and the board functioned on a very informal basis. During my tenure, we have established a regular bimonthly meeting schedule, formed an executive committee which also meets regularly, and established a number of working committees.
Bryan: How long did it take to accomplish that? Helzberg: It didn’t take long to set up meeting schedules, but it took about a year to really get the committee system functioning.
Langlois: We’ve made some significant changes in Rhode Island, too. We considered and rejected the idea of forming a smaller board because, although a 65-member board can be unwieldy, we did not want to risk alienating those who have supported our efforts so strongly. So we have developed mission statements for all of the board committees, and have tried to push more of the actual work down to the committee level where people could get together in smaller groups to really work on a project.
Riley: Marie, in terms of size, the National Arts Centre board is at the opposite end of the spectrum with only 10 members, but in some ways our assignment is more complex. Canada is a big country! And all of our board members are political appointments. So one challenge for me has been to make sure our board members understand what it means to serve on the Arts Centre board. In terms of differences from my predecessor, I think I brought an ability to be candid—sometimes disturbingly candid—and an ability to say “I don’t know.” I do know we have done a lot of rethinking, and I hope the board would agree that we now have a project that is stimulating to the intellect, and fun.
Early: The situation in Fresno was one in which leadership from a strong, long- term executive director made for a board which had become pretty lackadaisical about its responsibilities. My immediate predecessor’s important role was to sound the alarm about a serious financial crisis; my watch has involved finding solutions. One big change has been to reassert the important role that the board has in the organization, and I have tried to make sure that everyone has an active, hands-on role, and receives recognition for that. I want everyone to walk away from every meeting with a task. Meetings are not merely for information exchange.
Bryan: For 67 years, presidents of the Cincinnati Symphony had been men who were corporate executives. In asking me to serve, the nominating committee acknowledged that it might be useful to try somebody who had a passion about the product, who had been involved, and who was knowledgeable about the interactions among staff, musicians, the music director, volunteers, and the board. And I have credibility with all of these people, because I know them and understand them. And, perhaps, it was because I was a woman.
Riley: Trish, if you wonder if gender played a role in your nomination, my appointment was flat-out because I am a woman. The government thought that would be a good idea. And of course the reaction was, “Who’s she?” When I was appointed, my counterpart at the Kennedy Center was president of the World Bank, and initially, I felt a distinct lack of gravitas. But there were tradeoffs. I was allowed to be more creative, to take greater risks, and to be far more up front about some of the difficulties in what, for me, was all new. Not being stuck in any previously perceived role gave me a great deal of flexibility.
Institute: We at the Institute have maintained from day one that symphony orchestra organizations are complex, and require different kinds of leadership than do many other nonprofits. Would you agree? And if you do, how do those leadership skills differ?
Bryan: I would agree. Compared with other Cincinnati-area nonprofits in which I’ve been active, the symphony requires dealing with many different kinds of people. You deal with a community which believes the orchestra belongs to them. You deal with a board. You deal with a volunteer group. You deal with staff, musicians, the music director. It’s a lot more balls to juggle than I’ve found in other organizations.
Riley: I’m often struck by how astonishing it is that you can hear a piece of music at a rehearsal, and two hours later hear the same piece of music performed by all of the same parties, and it is totally different. The complexities of that are what make the music world so fascinating, and so demanding. You are dealing with highly intelligent people and something of an antique construct—people who wear 19th-century clothes and play 18th-century instruments. The psychology is far more demanding than any other arts organization of which I’ve been part. Symphony orchestras require a real delicacy of attention.
Early: Jean, I agree entirely with what you just said. And if I can expand on that, the “product” that we are “selling” is a fleeting, intangible one. Much of the Fresno orchestra’s identity comes from our music directors, who can also be fleeting. So maintaining an identity in complex circumstances is a special leadership challenge, and not one about which I had been educated in advance.
Langlois: I also sit on the Brown University board, and I find many similarities in working with musicians and faculty. But I agree with Susan’s point about identity. In an orchestra the size of Rhode Island’s, there is a change in artistic directors every four or five years, and it is a real challenge to maintain an identity under those circumstances. And that’s very different from dealing with a university or a hospital whose critical mass is much larger and identity more constant.
Helzberg: Here I am answering last again! And agreeing with what I have heard. My experience in Kansas City—and I have served on a lot of boards—is that the orchestra is complex, one might even say full of “factions.” The leadership challenge is to get different groups of highly intelligent people to work together, and that’s been a real learning experience for me.
Institute: Shirley, that’s a great lead-in to the next area we want to explore. As part of this whole project on women leaders, we have asked you to consider whether you have gender-based personality traits that make you particularly effective in your current roles. Susan, on your questionnaire, you indicated that you think you do.
Early: My experience, and the experience of what I’ve seen and studied in other people, is that we were raised as women. I was raised with different value systems and different skill focuses than most of the men I know. What I’m experiencing in this leadership role is carrying those skills and strengths and celebrating them. I try to stimulate an exchange of ideas by blending my feminine skills with the traditionally masculine skills.
Bryan: I have to tell you that the men, particularly those on the executive committee, appear to treat me more gently than they treated my predecessor. Has anyone else had that experience?
Langlois: I certainly haven’t! People feel I am very approachable. I’m very soft spoken so no one is intimidated by me. I think I encourage participation, and that probably does relate to my gender.
Helzberg: I would prefer to think that my leadership skills are not gender related, but I do know that there is more communication and our focus is more clear. And this board has shown more compassion than they might have under the leadership of a man. For example, in the past, relationships between the board and the musicians could be characterized as “us” and “them.” As we have developed a committee system during my tenure as president, we have included musicians on those committees, and as board members have come to know musicians as individuals, the level of concern for the musicians has certainly gone up. Is that a gender-related leadership style? I don’t know.
Riley: I’d like to say that from where I sit, I think leadership is what we would normally associate with masculine characteristics—a strong strategic sense of attack and mental toughness—combined with an ability to facilitate, to draw out, to listen, to nurture when necessary, to intuit when that is an advantage. For me, the ideal chair combines both masculine and feminine characteristics, so this is not a subject on which I care to linger. And, Trish, I have to tell you that my board has not treated me more gently. I have a real appetite for change, and when I get moving, I know that some of the men on the board feel threatened. But we work together, we are friends, and we’ve brought about enormous changes.
Institute: Continuing in the vein of women as leaders in orchestra organizations, we know that the ranks of women as executive directors are growing, as are the ranks of women as chairs of orchestra committees. However, the ranks of women as music directors are still very small. From your perspective as a board chair, is there an explanation for this?
Riley: We are in the middle of a music director search for the National Arts Centre symphony right now, and it’s my observation that whatever the mix of hormonal chemistry that makes an ordinary person an orchestra conductor requires an extraordinary dose of testosterone! It takes a very strong person to get all the personalities of an orchestra to perform with unanimity. There are probably relatively few women music directors because we, as North American women, have been acculturated to downplaying our egos.
Bryan: Are you considering a woman? Riley: No. Our initial list probably included 200 names, of whom 2 were women.
And they were eliminated early in the search.
Bryan: We’ve never conducted a survey on this question, but Cincinnati is a very conservative community, and I wonder whether this community would accept a woman as a music director at this time. I really don’t know.
Helzberg: We also have a search for a music director going on in Kansas City. And we have had two women among our candidates. One conducted our orchestra as a guest conductor prior to our official search; the other conducted recently. I can tell you a bit about the reaction when they were here. They were well received by the audiences, and the executive committee of the board wondered if we might not have an opportunity to be on the cutting edge by having a woman music director. Of course, because we are in the middle of our search, I can’t tell you how this will turn out.
Early: Shirley, I think your comments about the different constituencies that need to accept a music director are really important. We had a woman guest conductor in Fresno last season, and she was well received by the audiences. But I was disheartened by the evaluations she received from the orchestra. Many of the comments were based on gender, not artistry. So it must be a terribly difficult field for a woman to succeed.
Langlois: I think one obstacle to women becoming music directors is that other conductors do not mentor women the way they do men. And that must be a constant challenge for women who aspire to conduct major orchestras.
Riley: A few years ago, I was involved with a chamber orchestra when we selected a woman—who has now gone on as the artistic director of the Vienna Boys’ Choir—as a music director. And I would observe from that experience that there are more demands made on women, and the judgment is less generous. People talked about her appearance, her hair style—things they would never mention about a man. So I would say that the field of music direction is not one of égalité.
Institute: On that note, let’s move to the final leadership area we want to explore in this conversation. An important activity for orchestra board chairs is funding, and several of you have been involved in major fundraising projects for your orchestras. We would like you to share your experiences as women in approaching major funders.
Bryan: In Cincinnati, we have just successfully completed a $35.4 million capital campaign which was headed by a husband and wife team. But interestingly, the men who served on the campaign cabinet approached the major corporations and banks.
Helzberg: Trish, my experience in Kansas City has been exactly the opposite. My term of office began in May of 1995, and we were facing a June 30 fiscal year end with a shortfall of about $500,000. So I marched out to request year-end gifts from long-time supporters and corporations. I went alone, armed with lots of facts and a three-year plan for the future, and I got the money. I think our board felt I was the one who should go because it would be hard to say no to the president of the board.
Early: When I took office in Fresno, we had a $450,000 deficit which had been accumulating over seven or eight years. We also lost an important source of funds when Fresno’s “Arts to Zoo” local tax was ruled unconstitutional. What we learned was that during the time we had a reliable stream of tax revenue, we had let our fundraising muscles atrophy. Ours is not a community of major corporations, and our fundraising must have many grass roots. We discovered that we had to reestablish our credibility as a viable organization that adhered to businesslike principles; an organization that could be trusted with people’s money. And I have had no experience in which my being a woman was a hindrance in the area of fundraising.
Langlois: When I think about Cincinnati, I realize Rhode Island’s tiny! We have a $3 million capital campaign under way right now. A woman who has also served as president of the board and I are co-chairs of the campaign. In the Rhode Island community, many women are active in fundraising, so there have been no questions about whether a man or a woman should make a particular corporate contact.
Riley: Here again, my organization is a bit different. The National Arts Centre has always been funded by government. However, we have had significant decreases in that funding, and are starting to look to corporations for funds. My experience is that it is always best to have someone make the call who already knows the person being approached. And “big pockets” tend to listen to other “big pockets.” Being a woman who does not have particularly big pockets, I’m at somewhat of a disadvantage. So when I am making one of those calls, I always make sure that I have someone with me who does have big pockets.
Bryan: That’s exactly the point. And I need to say that I was not upset when it was suggested that a man make a particular call, because I certainly wanted the best representative to make every call.
Institute: You have all been most generous with your time and thoughtful in your answers. Are there any other aspects of women’s leadership that you think we should cover?
Riley: Yes. I never thought it would be possible to work as hard as I have on this job. And listening to this conversation, I think we are all working terribly hard at our jobs. And while I want to be one of the naysayers, I wonder if there is a gender aspect to that?
Bryan: I certainly agree about working hard. And I also agree about wondering if there is a gender aspect. Do we have to prove ourselves more than men?
Langlois: I have not had that experience. The two men who preceded me gave every bit as much time to the orchestra as I do. That may be because we are such a small organization, and everyone has to draw on the board more than they do in larger organizations.
Early: I have been completely surprised by the demands placed on this board, and particularly on me. I feel as though I will have acquired a Ph.D. in trusteeship, as well as in symphony management, by the end of my term. Is that gender related? I’m not sure. But I do know that I have wanted to spend a great deal of time with each individual on the board.
Helzberg: Our entire board has invested tremendous amounts of time because we have completely restructured our organization. And Jean, while I, too, want to be one of the naysayers, I do think that there are changes that women would recommend that men might not.
Riley: This entire conversation has been fascinating, and I keep thinking of more avenues to investigate. Some of our answers seem to vary based upon the size of our communities, and I wonder also about the dimension of the presence of power in our communities, and what effect it has on the acceptance of women as leaders. But I guess those are explorations for another time.
1 The “Group 1” orchestras as defined by the American Symphony Orchestra League.
2 Craven, Robert R., ed. 1986. Orchestras of the United States: Selected Profiles. New York: Greenwood Press.
3 From material developed for A Quantitative Analysis of Women in Leadership Roles in Symphony Orchestra Organizations that begins on page 91 of this issue.
Room at the Top: Women as Executive Directors of Symphony Orchestras
True story: An accomplished woman is the logical choice as the next board chairman for a Midwestern symphony orchestra. But the current chairman confesses to the orchestra’s manager that the organization may not be
ready to have a woman in charge. “Then why on earth did you hire a female as executive director?” she asks. Flustered, he responds: “We don’t look for the same level of leadership in a manager.”
Women professionals lead symphony orchestras in wide and increasing numbers. In 45 percent of the largest 200 American symphony orchestras, a woman leads the professional staff; nearly 3 in 4 of the smallest-budget orchestras are led by female managers. And the majority-female staffs of most orchestras— 60 percent on average—suggest that the ranks of female executives will continue to swell in the coming decade.
Just what level of leadership do orchestras expect of executive directors? And does gender have any bearing on how orchestra managers do the job—or how they are perceived to do the job? Conversations with six accomplished women who manage symphony orchestras provoked lively, thoughtful, and divergent opinions on these questions.
“I am not a believer in women having certain traits that make them better or worse orchestra managers,” says Rebekah Lambert, executive director of the Eugene Symphony Orchestra since early 1996. Lambert formerly served as executive director of the Symphony of Southeast Texas and orchestra manager of the Honolulu Symphony. At the $1 million-budget Eugene Symphony, she joins a long list of female leaders, including a previous executive director, several female board chairs, and former music director Marin Alsop, one of the preeminent female conductors in the world.
Kathryn Holm began her career with The Florida Orchestra more than 20 years ago—as principal harpist. When the orchestra fell into debilitating financial crisis in 1990, she found herself appointed interim executive director. “I was drafted and backed into this career, ” she says. When offered the chance to take the job permanently, she recalls, “I could have returned to playing. But after a lot of thought, I realized management held more new challenges than did playing, and that’s what I wanted.” After a tumultuous time of crisis and cutbacks, the
$6.3 million-budget orchestra has steadied under Holm’s leadership, running three consecutive seasons in the black.
Susan Franano, too, left a thriving performance career for orchestra management. In 1982, she put a professional singing career on hold to help the new Kansas City Symphony get off the ground. By the time the orchestra was securely up and running in 1986, she says, “I was hooked on orchestra management. The decision not to return to a pretty healthy and busy performing career was a very happy one. It was obviously the right thing to do to stay in orchestra management, a field that turned out to be such an incredibly good fit for so many of the things I want to do.” Franano left the Kansas City Symphony in 1995 to join the $8 million-budget Columbus Symphony Orchestra as executive director. She stepped down from that position in December 1997.
“I think the most important leadership traits, such as honesty, consistency, integrity, confidence, commitment, and credibility, are gender neutral,” says Jane Hunter, since 1987 executive director of the $2 million-budget Portland Symphony Orchestra in Maine. Hunter has seen the orchestra field evolve over a two-decade career that includes stints at the Springfield Symphony in Massachusetts, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, and the Midland Symphony in Michigan, where she also served as principal cellist. “The stress of what is happening to the institution is really bearing down on management, more than anywhere else,” she says. “The managers are the ones who are expected to make everybody’s expectations come to pass, and make everybody happy. Sometimes that’s impossible.”
In 1971, Barbara Richman moved from Boston to a remote fishing village (population: 75) on the south shore of Nova Scotia. “I picked up and followed my husband to Canada,” she says. “And I threw my whole life and my whole career over to do that. I suddenly had to find a way to make a life and a career for myself.” Richman managed Canadian dance, theater, and music organizations foratotalof11yearsbeforejoiningSymphonyNovaScotiaasmanagingdirector in 1995. “I lead from within,” she says. “My preference is to build teams, processes, and skills, and to establish an organization that has a life of its own, that is not dependent on any one individual.”
Seattle Symphony Executive Director Deborah Card is one of four female executive directors currently employed by the twenty-five largest North American orchestras. Card joined the $15 million-budget orchestra in 1992, after six years as executive director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and eight years on staff at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She had her first baby in March. “I don’t know any female managers of the big orchestras who have families,” she says. “I think it will be interesting in the next five years to see whether this job can be done, because the model has been that you are all things to all people. Being able to balance motherhood with filling the executive director’s role will be an interesting challenge.”
All six women hesitate to make generalizations about gender and leadership, noting that their experiences as orchestra managers varied widely depending on the orchestra’s community. Kathryn Holm, whose orchestra serves four Florida cities, noted distinct cultural differences between cities less than a twenty-minute drive from one another. Oregon, Florida, Ohio, Maine, Nova Scotia, and Seattle have individual personalities, as do the symphony orchestras that serve them and the managers who lead those organizations. During a series of conversations condensed here, they discussed from their unique perspectives leadership styles, orchestra management, and their own career paths.
Institute: What are the most valuable leadership traits for an orchestra manager, male or female?
Barbara Richman: I think it really depends on where the organization is in its development, what the organization requires. But if I could have the perfect package, then I would like to see a team builder. Someone who had good human resource skills, and who also had strong fund-raising abilities. One who had real vision about where the orchestra could go, and a clear, broad context of understanding of the orchestra’s position in its own community and its broader national and international role.
Jane Hunter: Any orchestra manager has to be able to listen, first of all, and to communicate. A manager needs to be able to articulate a vision for the organization. That’s a vision that certainly the manager is responsible for helping to inspire, but I don’t believe it’s solely the manager’s vision. I think that the trick is to help the organization come to a collective sense of vision in itself, and then to communicate that to the community and all parts of the organization and to make sure that everyone feels that he or she is invested in that vision.
Deborah Card: I think that having a vision, understanding the vision, and being able to articulate the vision is critical to the institution. It’s then important to have the technical skills to back up one’s vision. I believe caring about people is really important to being able to motivate others and encourage them to share in the vision. Whether you’re caring about your music director, musicians, staff, patrons, or volunteers, ultimately you do what you do because you care about them. In this business you can’t just walk all over people, you need to inspire them. In a symphony orchestra, you can’t live for the music alone. You should care about the people, what music will do for the people, and believe that the sharing of this great art form will make people’s lives better. I frankly feel that ego is something that doesn’t have a place for the executive director of an arts organization, because you have so many other egos to deal with. Certainly we need to have enough ego to do our jobs, but if you are here for self- aggrandizement, you’re in the wrong place.
Institute: Is it important that the manager be a musician?
Hunter: I’ve only come to this role as a musician. But I’ve found it very important. It shapes the mission and thus the vision. I find myself arguing for things that don’t make economic sense but that I know are good for the orchestra.
Card: I think it’s really important to have been a performing musician, or at least have that empathy with the musician and the musician’s life. One of my biggest roles is translating between the musicians and the board members, who ask questions like, “Why do they need so much time off?” and “Why do they only work 20 hours a week?” You need to have a good understanding of musicians’ lives and lifestyles.
Kathryn Holm: It has taken some time for me to overcome the “only a musician” label. It has been a struggle to gain the credibility, but what has done it for me has been three years in the black. The remaining challenge is being executive director at the same place I was once in the orchestra. When budget cuts were necessary, and impacted their salaries, many musicians felt I had abandoned and turned against them. Any disagreement with management is amplified by this dynamic. We are implementing an orchestra relations committee to work on this. I’ve also had to acquire, both with help and by trial and error, particular tools such as time management, structural organization, meeting effectiveness, employee evaluation. It has been work, but I think it’s easier to teach an artist business, than it is to teach a businessman about the art!
Richman: I am not a musician; I come from a dance and theater background. And it’s terrible. The ideal thing would be to have someone who has a broader musical background. I think a good manager needs to have a really contextual understanding of the artistic vision. You need to be able to support the artistic director, particularly in this day and age when artistic directors fly in and out. That’s harder to do when you don’t have the background.
Institute: All of you describe yourselves to some extent as consensus builders. Do you think that this approach is particularly appropriate to symphony orchestras, where there are so many different constituencies invested?
Richman: So many of the problem areas in orchestras now relate to the adversarial relationship among boards, management, and orchestra. At this time in history, it’s really key that there’s a shift in that. At Symphony Nova Scotia, I’ve tried to relationship build. I’ve tried to have very broad sharing of information and to see that there was very little in the way of closed doors. I’ve tried to involve the orchestra in administrative decision making. In my situation, the orchestra has been a fairly continuing group, but the board turns over almost 100 percent every three years and the staff also turns over very, very rapidly. So the people who understand the history and the culture and have experienced it are the players. The orchestra is a resource that we should be drawing on more.
Rebekah Lambert: I think I was brought in to the Eugene Symphony as a healer, as someone to bring our diverse and historically divided constituencies together. I think I’m making progress. We held a joint board-orchestra retreat last February. And this past November we held a board meeting prior to a rehearsal at the concert hall, invited the entire orchestra to attend the board meeting so they could see the board work, and then invited the board to stay for the rehearsal so they could see the orchestra work. I also do a monthly, bullet-point synopsis of the state of the orchestra: where we are financially, where we are we with ticket sales and development, what the major issues confronting us are. That goes to every orchestra member. And I know people read it, because when it doesn’t look good, I get calls! I’m at every rehearsal. I came in here with the trust factor already there because my sister was a former musician in the orchestra. My aim is to let them know that trust was justified. I want to understand the issues and want to bring people together.
Hunter: We can operate by majority rules. But because orchestras run largely on peoples’ passion—whether the musicians’ passion for the music or the volunteers’ passion for the art form—I think that building consensus or helping people reconcile themselves with whatever result is reached is important. You might not be able to get everybody to agree on a particular point, but it is important that when somebody in the family, be it an orchestra member or staff member or volunteer, disagrees, that you take the time to listen and hear the concerns. You have to acknowledge the concern and provide some kind of encouragement that what is really at the bottom of the concern is going to be addressed in some other way.
Card: You have to build consensus, but then somebody has to be the person to make the tough decisions. Certainly I have lots of opinions about the way certain things should be handled. But basically my way of building a team is to try and have a complete understanding throughout the organization from the senior directors all the way down through the staff of “how would we do it?” And so consensus building is really developing a shared ownership and a shared knowledge of the way we do business. When I first came to the Seattle Symphony, it was clear that the decision making was very centralized and that all of the information was held very closely amongst two or three people on the board, without even a whole lot of staff involvement. And it has taken a very long time to change that. We’re building a new concert hall, and this is the kind of thing that can be a catastrophe because there are either too many people involved or not enough people involved. And I think we’ve worked really hard at getting the right balance. It feels like a community project rather than two or three people who have made the decisions. But it’s a lot more work. In my previous position at the L.A. Chamber Orchestra, I did have people saying, “Look, forget it, you’re in charge, you just make a decision.” I don’t think that’s the right way to manage an orchestra. Consensus building is more labor intensive, but the shared ownership is much more rewarding.
Holm: Crisis taught me a lot about teamwork. It gave me a real appreciation of everybody’s job in the institution, because I did all of them. I learned very early on the necessity of bringing everybody on board with decisions, that even in crisis I couldn’t fly by the seat of my pants and do it my way. If anything was going to work, particularly in crisis, everybody had to be committed to the plan. It caused me to have a collaborative style, and in more recent times a very empowering style. I’ve learned to hire really, really good managers and let them run their departments their way.
Institute: What about fund raising? Does being a woman have any impact on fundraising success?
Holm: It’s a little cliché, but I do think in many situations being a woman is an advantage in fund raising. Women—this is the cliché part—focus more on relationships, and that’s what fund raising is. I think women are really good at building those relationships, maintaining them, and nurturing them. I think in terms of individual donors, that’s a real strength for most of us. In the corporate world, frankly, I think that’s where you can use the feminine side to make it difficult for a male executive to say no to you. I think they find it harder to say no to a gracious woman than a guy they can blow off. I know that’s a somewhat sexist view, but I think that’s a reality.
Richman: There are situations where it’s easier for men to raise money. If the power base is primarily male, then male board members are often better plugged in to the network. That can be a real plus. I’ve seen it be tougher for female fund raisers and board members if they didn’t have a way to make those connections.
Franano: I’ve had both experiences. I think in the 13 years I was with the Kansas City Symphony, I raised money I couldn’t have raised if I were male. One former business leader in Kansas City used to laugh and tell people that nobody had ever fleeced him as well as I did, that he could never say no to me. And that was a subject of cocktail conversation that people enjoyed and laughed about. In Columbus I would agree with Barbara that because it is still an old boy’s network the corporate dollars don’t as often go to women. On the board there are a number of women who haven’t been very successful. One in particular, though, has been very successful because she has tremendous resources herself, and is willing to throw them behind her own ask. I think it has nothing to do with her gender; it has everything to do with her money.
Institute: The orchestra field seems to be in a state of great flux and change. Do women leaders have any advantage in managing that change?
Franano: I think it depends on the nature of the change needed or desired. In my own experience, I led tremendous change throughout a community when we built a brand new orchestra in Kansas City. I didn’t know a thing about doing it at the time; it was all very instinctive. Looking back on it I suspect that it’s the sort of thing that I probably was better at than most of the men I have observed in similar situations. I think I listened better. I gave the change the time it needed in that particular situation; I wasn’t impatient about it. I was able to convince others that change was the order of the day, and it would happen in a good way if we gave it a chance and stayed the course. But if it were the sort of change that needs a “slash-and-burn” kind of technique that we’re seeing so much of in corporate America—with downsizing, mergers and acquisitions, and so on—I don’t think I’d be very good at that. I think it would be my own feminine sensibilities that would get in the way.
Hunter: I think that women may have an advantage when it comes to managing change because, as an executive director, you are at the eye of the storm of a number of egos, and I think women have a great deal more facility at managing around other egos as opposed to their own. I think they are a little more flexible. I also think that women are more process-oriented than men are by and large, and also are less territorial in terms of responsibilities and investment in tasks. All of those things I think really come under fire when you are talking about change. Women are more adaptable.
Institute: Is there anything you wish you could change about your own management style?
Richman: I would try to find ways to be more accepting of the power that I have. That is actually not easy for me. I would like to internalize some of those “male” qualities in terms of being very able to use power, obviously not in an abusive way, but sometimes I’m a little threatened by the dangers of being a powerful person. I manage a flagship arts organization in my community, which means that a tremendous amount of power accrues simply because of the position. You open your mouth and people listen to you and think you’ve actually said something very, very important simply by virtue of the fact that you do this job. I’m a big believer in not abusing power, but sometimes you can go the wrong way and not use it effectively as it’s presented to you.
Franano: Ooh, did that really hit home! It’s exactly that. It’s knowing those moments when you shouldn’t sit back and keep your counsel, because in your position you want to be giving counsel. It probably would serve me well to lead a little bit more, to be a little more definitive and not wait so long for consensus to form. To be flexible about the means, but make it very clear what the ends are up front.
Card: Five years ago I might have said that I have problems accepting the power of my position. But not today. The first thing that comes to my mind is that I am so accessible to everybody that it puts me in a bad position in terms of my own ability to succeed with the work I do. Part of what I have always tried to do is to have an open-door policy, walking around, talking to staff members, making them feel that they can ask me questions and that I’m not just this aloof person that only talks to my senior directors. But now there are just too many demands on my time, people want me too much. I need to restrict my availability somewhat to remain effective.
Lambert: I am getting better at feeling comfortable with the role, the authority. Because it is something to become habituated to. Likewise I would echo that especially in Eugene, where everybody’s opinion is regarded as being equally valid, it’s been very hard to encourage anyone, whether it’s board or staff, to make decisions and to lead people to understand there are cases where someone just has to make a decision. Where it’s not a group effort. There has been some discomfort, especially with my staff, when I just make decisions.
Holm: The hardest thing for me is to let go of all of the detail and the sense of responsibility directly for everything like it used to be when we were in crisis. I’m now accepting and rejoicing in and flourishing in the ability to delegate and to actually let go and let people do their thing. Because most of them do it better than I do. But I’m still learning how to give them the support they need. I like it, but it’s not a natural experience in this organization, and it’s something we’re all working at. It’s a letting go and a holding hands at the same time.
Institute: What do you think of the idea that there are generational differences in leadership style as opposed to, or in addition to, gender differences?
Franano: I think there’s a greater generational difference in leadership styles in males than females. I do think I have seen a shift to more inclusive management styles in younger men than in older men, and maybe that’s because there are more women in the work force, and because some of those young men have observed women’s leadership styles as they have gone through the beginnings of their careers, and without even realizing it perhaps they have patterned themselves after somebody they’ve seen to be successful who just happened to be a woman.
Hunter: And they also have wives who work, so the management at home is very different.
Lambert: I have seen some possible generational differences within my own staff. We have an opinionated and stubborn, but dedicated and talented, group of people that often has troubles working together. When I think of women I know who are unable to work together as a team, I wonder if it’s not gender but education and generation. When bemoaning these women to my own mother, she commented that she was never taught how to work in teams or how to build consensus. On the flip side, I attended a graduate school at Yale that stresses team work and doesn’t give out formal grades in order to build cooperation and camaraderie.
Richman: I’m seeing more young women who are more assertive. They have been in the workplace longer and more of them see themselves as career directed as opposed to family directed. And they are patterning on men the same way that men are patterning on women. I do think there is some crossover there. I’m seeing quite significant changes in the young women that are here now versus the young women I worked with 20 or 30 years ago. It definitely makes them more successful. There is a larger-base body of women to network with, there are more women to exchange ideas with, and there are more opportunities for women now. And I think that the fact that they have these skills, and that they have different sets of values and different sets of visions opens doors for them.
Institute: If younger women are being more assertive and taking on some more traditionally “male” leadership qualities, do they lose anything? Do they lose something valuable in terms of their ability to build a family atmosphere?
Franano: Maybe it falls under the category of “If you never had it then you never know you miss it.” My emotional response is a little bit of mourning that they can’t feel what I have felt as a woman, which I treasure and which I think is very full and rich. Sometimes I look at traditional career men and feel they have lost out on some of the things I’ve been able to enjoy and hold close. But you know, that’s my perspective. Maybe they haven’t lost a thing. Maybe if I could go back and do it both ways, I’d prefer the new way.
Holm: I think also it’s a matter of degree. We have several young women on our staff who show an interesting blend of the two. They are very hard driving, very goal oriented, always eye-on-that-target and very aggressive, and yet you see them at tears at a concert when they are moved by the music. That just feeds back to their drive to succeed. It comes back to an individual level, and I think the ones who will be the most successful will be the ones who find that balance. You want the feminine and the male, the yin and the yang. You take the best from both and really run with it.
Richman: Just the way we’re most successful when we’ve found that balance, when we’ve been able to assimilate what we sometimes think of as the “male” characteristics that are important for us to do our jobs, too.
Institute: All of you have majority female staffs, and this is a trend throughout the field. With more women taking on top management and senior management positions, what do you see down the road? In 10 or 15 years, will the vast majority of orchestras be led by women?
Hunter: I think it will depend on the direction that orchestras take. And it’s hard to know how that will be affected by some of the generational changes that we talked about. I think that orchestras are going to move toward more entrepreneurial approaches. In the past, that would have indicated that you might see more male executive directors. But I don’t know about that now. I think we have more and more young women who are going into business school and who are functioning as executives, and may be just as comfortable and would gravitate naturally toward something that was more entrepreneurial in nature.
Franano: I think most boards of the largest symphony orchestras are still male dominated, and I think the funding of symphony orchestras is still more controlled by men. So maybe at those orchestras it’s a natural inclination for them to want a man to work with. I’m told that in a recent search at a Group One orchestra they were pretty open about deciding that for their orchestra at this time, it has to be a man.
Institute: What is it that is attracting so many young women to orchestra management? Or, conversely, what is repelling the men?
Franano: It’s exciting. It’s also important. It’s an opportunity to do something that you feel makes a positive difference. I believe so passionately in the importance of orchestras: the music that they create, what they bring to their communities, what they bring to a too-shallow culture that we have in this country. Whether that’s something that’s more appealing to women than to men, I’m not sure. Popular lore might have you believe that, but I encounter both males and females in the business for whom making a difference is an important issue.
Richman: I think that often women are more human-resource-based. Because the profit motive isn’t there in the arts, I think there is a better fit. You don’t necessarily have to make the same kind of decisions, you’re not driven by the same issues. In a corporate situation where you are really profit driven, and in this time particularly with all the issues relating to downsizing human resources, very often you are less able to protect your human resources. Whereas in the arts your human resource is still key, because your product is your people.
Lambert: Maybe women are naturally more drawn to nonprofits and service. But then again, I’m not comfortable with these gender stereotypes, so I say that with a lot of skepticism.
Holm: I do think that even amongst a male-oriented structure there may be a slightly greater acceptance of women in leadership in nonprofit and arts versus the regular business environment. As in, “Well, a nonprofit is a warm fuzzy thing so it’s okay for a woman to run it.”
Hunter: Not a real business. I agree with that.
Franano: I think our society still has men defining themselves much more by how much money they are able to make, and what sorts of things they are able to acquire in their lives. I don’t think we place the same burden on women. And therefore it may be easier for a woman to make a decision to go into a career that everyone knows is not going to be as lucrative as the for-profit business world. Society seems in a funny way to accept women leaders in nonprofits more readily than in for-profits. I think we still have this notion that you’ve got to have that brutal, killer instinct that we don’t associate with women—or we don’t like to associate with women—to be successful in that dog-eat-dog business world, whose mission after all is to create a profit. We don’t expect that from the nonprofit sector. We expect the arts to have more lofty ideals. I don’t know. Maybe the pendulum is swinging back toward reverence of women as somehow more in touch with the better qualities of humankind?
Institute: How do you all define success? Is it monetary?
Holm: It can’t be, if you’re in this business! I think it’s having an impact. It’s seeing the results of what you’re doing have an effect on the programs of the institution and meeting the challenges and overcoming the impossible.
Hunter: Well, I do have some monetary measures of success, though I suppose in the world of the corporate lions they would be laughable. To me being financially successful means being able to support myself and being secure enough to provide for my future. I also think a measure of success for me is pushing my boundaries, being able to explore new things, acquire new skills, and being able to take calculated risks.
Card: It’s really hard for me to deal with this issue of ambition, and what I feel means I’m successful. It’s not monetary—which may be a bad thing, because I will forever be paid less than the men are. It’s actually a source of great discussion in my family, because I know that I get paid less than a man in my position, and yet I still do it because I believe in it. I haven’t ever been motivated by money, but sometimes maybe should be. Probably the greatest reward is having people come up to you and say, “Wow, that was a great concert,” or “Wow, the symphony is doing so well, and I really want to be a part of it.” Then you feel successful.
Lambert: That’s exactly it. It’s standing in the lobby after a youth concert and listening to the kids chatter about it.
Franano: I absolutely agree, and I would take all of that as an important part of success. But I would not consider myself a success unless I also felt that I was in control of my life. And by that I mean being able to keep things in balance between professional responsibilities and personal life stuff.
Lambert: I’ve been in situations where I didn’t pay attention to the personal side of my life. And my personal and professional lives got all blurred together, and I think I suffered on both ends of it. So I’m very conscious that for the way I am made up as a person, I need to take good care of the nonwork part of my life and have that be fulfilling, to be content there, and give it the time it needs in order for me to function well in everything I do.
Card: My pregnancy gave me an opportunity to assess the things that I have to do versus the things that I want to do, but don’t have to do. It gave me an opportunity to provide greater balance in my life long before I had a mandatory call for something like that. In the past six months I felt an incredible calm and understanding that I had never felt before. I can’t decide whether this is because I was pregnant, because I turned 40 last fall, or because before I became pregnant I had decided I needed to either change professions or change my attitude. In any event, it’s different now. But I still struggle every single day with whether I’m giving enough time in either place. If you want to know the truth, that’s the biggest difference between a big orchestra and a small orchestra—the incredible demands on your time. When I was eight months pregnant, I was still working fourteen-hour days. There are so many different things that pull at you; balance is something you have to work on all the time. I’m not sure it works for all people. I work really hard at it all the time—I’m getting better, but it’s still not there.
Hunter: I want to emphasize that this is a phenomenon that is not exclusively feminine. I think many of us in the field are thinking about balance in life, and looking at the field and the amount of burnout that occurs, how we want to live our lives. The organization man of the 1960s is dead, at least in this field.
Must One Play Viola? Women as Orchestra Committee Chairs in Symphony Orchestras
The orchestra committee of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra (five elected members and the ROPA1 representative, ex-officio) includes two men and four women. And four of the committee members are viola players. The on-going joke is that the viola players are taking over.
As it happens this story very much reflects some of the dynamics of collegial relationships, gender issues, and leadership among symphony orchestra musicians that emerged in our discussions with six women (two of them viola players) who serve or have served as chair of the orchestra committee (players’ committee, musicians’ committee) in their orchestras. That they are women and leaders does not seem remarkable to their colleagues; that, within the orchestra, the players see each other first as players with particular skills and traits they bring to the group enterprise of making music is a matter of course.
The women musician-leaders who shared their insights and experiences for this report include:
- Bonnie Bewick, a violinist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, who recently completed a one-year term as chair of the players’ committee of that orchestra;
- Diane Dickson, an oboist and english horn player in the Fort Wayne Symphony, who has served six years as orchestra committee chair;
- Clara A. Markham, a violist in the Louisville Orchestra and chair of that orchestra’s musicians’ committee;
- Ruth Rhodes, a clarinetist in the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra and also dean of the graduate division of Vandercook College of Music in Chicago, who served as orchestra committee chair for nine years up until 1996;
- Patricia Daly Werne, a violist in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and a member of the orchestra committee. She also served as orchestra committee chair for three years between 1991 and 1995; and
Paula B. Wright, a cellist in the Austin Symphony Orchestra, whose experience includes three terms as chair of that orchestra’s orchestra committee.
Women’s Leadership in Today’s Orchestras
We asked them why they were chosen to chair their committees, and most of the participants said they believed they were chosen on the basis of experience, or competence, or some other strength or trait that the orchestra members needed and valued.
Being able and willing to contribute their time to the work of the committee was also especially significant. Bonnie Bewick told us that her committee selected her their chair because, among other reasons, “I have more time than some other members of the committee.” Diane Dickson, who says her orchestra “probably selected me because they know I’m really interested in this and there aren’t a whole lot of people in the orchestra who want to get out there and do this, and deal with these things,” also told us, “the fact that you do want to do this and are probably perceived as being very fair-minded and that you hold the interests of the orchestra and players first in mind, that will get you elected, no problem.”
The issue of time and personal commitment to what can be at least a time- consuming role, and usually a demanding one as well, did prompt some wry comments about women’s willingness to work hard, as well as Ruth Rhodes’s assertion that she was selected chair precisely because she is a woman: “I was the only woman on a five-member committee and, therefore, got the ‘honor’ of doing all the work.”
These six women think of their own leadership first in practical terms. Asked to describe the greatest satisfaction of their roles as committee chairs, they mentioned particular accomplishments: a pension plan offered to musicians for the first time in Austin; “one of the best growth contracts for this orchestra” in Fort Wayne; the ouster of personalities regarded by the musicians as antagonistic to the organization in Northwest Indiana; and the implementation of a compromise agreement that saved the Hartford orchestra.
What satisfactions and frustrations did they find in these accomplishments and in their roles? Here is what they offered.
Paula Wright: One of the most difficult things of the chair position in Austin is that that person leads negotiations, because the orchestra committee is the negotiation committee. And talk about things you never knew and had to learn in a hurry! Like how to read charts, all kinds of things. And you have to be able to reconcile both sides: you have to be able to assess the situation and decide how you’re going to bring the two together, if you’re going to make a successful closure and move forward. I think that in this role, you’re forced to develop qualities you may not know that you have. And it’s a joy to find out that you can do some things that you never even attempted before, or thought of.
Diane Dickson: My greatest satisfaction was one of the best growth contracts for the Fort Wayne orchestra. It was difficult because we came from a position, not of strife, but of great satisfaction in the way things were, and it’s difficult to get things moving.
Ruth Rhodes: The greatest satisfaction I have is that, through the system— through the camaraderie of the orchestra members, as well as the huge support I received from symphonic services division and from Local 10-208 in Chicago and Local 203 in Hammond, Indiana—we were able to get rid of a CEO in our orchestra and a chairman of the board whose mission seemed to be to tear us apart. So that was a great satisfaction: the musicians won. Even though it was a horrible two years, we learned a great deal. The experience brought the members of the orchestra together in a way that might not have happened if we hadn’t almost lost the orchestra. The biggest disappointment was not being able to get the entire story across to the community or, especially, to the board of directors. This is a sad thing, because, to my mind, it prevents healing from taking place if the whole story is not understood, or accepted, or if there are issues and doubts that still are not addressed.
Pat Werne: For me, the greatest satisfaction of being chair was combined with timing. I came onto the committee at a time when we were about to dissolve: we had been locked out for a year and a half, and we were talking about forming a co-op orchestra. I was voted onto the committee at that time and was able to help put through a compromise agreement and to help the board and the musicians and the management all work together. So I came in at a time of terrible strife, and the greatest satisfaction for me is to look back and to see how we turned around the whole situation in Hartford from one of hatred and animosity to a situation where all the groups are working together. And it has been very satisfying now, some years later, to see other musicians getting involved in board representation work and really becoming involved in the workings of the orchestra committee without this terrible animosity and hatred we had.
Their Own Leadership and Leadership Styles
We then asked the group to describe their own styles of leadership; to tell us whether or not they felt their own styles were shaped by the particular situations in which they found themselves (or felt that their style helped shape the situation); and to share their assessments of what it takes to be effective in the role of orchestra committee chair. Some common themes and characteristics that emerged here and elsewhere in our discussions were a desire to work for consensus, a quality of inclusiveness and emphasis on communication, a certain sort of activism, a willingness to put themselves on the line, and finding pleasure in involving or mentoring others in a manner rather akin to mothering.
Werne: When I was first on the committee, my style was shaped by what the orchestra needed just then, and, to a certain extent, by my temperament. I think I was chosen because of my temperament, because I have a pretty calm approach, and because I find it pretty easy to get along with most people. And that’s exactly what the orchestra needed right then.
I was active on the committee as chair for three years. Now, after three years off the committee, I am back on just in time for the second round in our new contract renewal process. I see my role as one of ensuring continuity, facilitating better communication, and encouraging the musicians to become involved in governance. I enjoy the involvement with my colleagues and feel a deep sense of fulfillment in this work, but I am also tremendously relieved and satisfied to see other musicians taking responsible roles.
I think the effectiveness of the chair is how you communicate with your committee, how you are able to get them involved in being as active as possible, giving them as much responsibility as you can, and relying on them. I think it should be more of a process of delegating, but in practice one person does have to answer. You asked if we bring anything to this position particularly because we are women. I keep going back to family life: in my family, I am in a pretty traditional mother role, where I keep the family integrated and do the planning and keep everyone on an even keel. I definitely did that with the orchestra committee, too. I think I was mothering in the sense that I tried to make sure that everyone was working effectively as an orchestra committee participant and making sure that all of my colleagues in the orchestra were tuned in to what was going on. That, to me, is a very important aspect of being a chair.
Wright: My leadership style is direct and hard-working, and I would certainly hope, principled. I try to be as honest as I can, and when I served on the executive committee of ROPA, I would say that I was very direct. I did not always agree, and I would state my reasons for disagreeing. You certainly have a stronger position if you let it be known exactly where you stand. I think I was elected because I was perhaps perceived as competent and not easily manipulated or put off.
I have a good relationship with members of the orchestra, I have a good relationship with the union, and I have a good relationship with some of the members of the board. I think that I can draw on those if the matter is pressed. I feel if you establish relationships over a period of time that you can draw on those positive experiences.
Rhodes: As a leader, I am usually very understanding of the opinions of others. I can put up with a lot of the way people are—the way they do things, what they say—and when a compromise needs to be made, I usually can make it. However, when something is wrong or not fair, I will stand by my convictions. I have a very keen sense of right and wrong that I use in my role as leader. Diplomacy, kindness, and patience will always be apparent in my dealings with others, but they will never be in doubt as to my opinion of any issue, particularly in situations where my standards or somebody’s position are at stake.
To be an effective orchestra committee chair, it is very necessary to know your collective bargaining agreement inside-out and backwards. The agreement is the tool by which the chair protects and helps the musicians. I think it is very necessary to have the ability to listen, understand, and weigh the urgency of any situation that arises. I have seen some chairs always take the side of management (out of fear of recrimination) or always take the side of the musicians, regardless of the facts. I truly believe that all decisions should be made with the good of the organization in mind. Management is not always right, nor are the musicians. Everyone must give in order to continue the success of any organization.
Bonnie Bewick: As a leader, I tried to get to the bottom of something, to realize everyone’s best intentions, and to come up with a solution where everyone felt like a winner: the win-win situation. It didn’t work all the time, but it wasn’t a bad modus operandi to start with.
Did my style of leadership change the situation? I’d like to think so. I liked the team that I worked with: we had five personalities on the players’ committee that seemed to really take over for one another. I was always responsible for knowing the most information and for coming prepared to meetings. But when things got heated, if one person, whether it was I or someone else in the group, got a little testy, or got fired up, that person would automatically back down, and another person would step forward. It seemed like this was all intuitive with our committee. There was some really good teamwork.
Markham: I would characterize my leadership style as inclusive. Each committee member needs to know that the extreme amount of effort extended by each person is in direct correlation to his or her influence. The chair needs to rely on—and the chair’s effectiveness depends on the extent to which the chair does rely on—the whole committee.
Dickson: I like to plant seeds for ideas, and build consensus. I don’t always come off as having an agenda or a strong point of view and have often wondered if this is a weakness! I like to ask questions and use subtle means to steer the committee to a decision. Conciliatory skills are a must, towards players, management, and board members.
Communication is the key. That is something we can never forget: sometimes it takes so much trouble to do, but it is the best investment you can make. Communication with the committee and with the orchestra is absolutely essential. At the beginning of my first term as chair, the committee started a newsletter, The Players’ Voice, as a means to communicate the activities of the committee to the players. It is an excellent communication device, and the players have grown to expect it. We want the musicians to know the kinds of thing the committee does. In other words, we let them know the kind of business we are taking care of on their behalf. We found that when we kept people more informed about what was going on, that, in and of itself, generated interest in coming to the general meeting. The overall purpose of doing that is to try to get the group to be a cohesive unit, in other words, for people to feel on board with one another on a variety of issues, so that when you get to the third year of a contract, there is some background for the committee to be able to unite the group on major issues for negotiation.
Feminine Traits and Leadership
There was a reluctance among the six women to equate gender with leading in any particular way. While they acknowledged that there are traits that many women tend to have developed to a greater degree than most men, overall, the view is that leadership depends on the individual.
Markham: I think the quality of leadership is altruistic and defies the boundaries of gender, much as other ultimate ideals do. Of course, ability and opportunity are two different things. It is evident to me that, quite often, men and women communicate differently and approach problem solving differently.
Rhodes: In general, I think women have added a new dimension to the business world. There is a certain sense of caring and nurturing that most women will bring to the job as a result of their years spent caring for children, spouses, and elderly parents. That is not to say that men don’t have the same capabilities, but they have not developed these skills to the same extent as women because of the traditional male/female roles that society still fosters. So, I do think women have certain gender-based traits, but none that necessarily makes them better leaders than men: they are simply different leaders in some cases. Women are sometimes less authoritative or domineering in a leadership role than men, though in the case of our orchestra’s recent history, that was not true.
Dickson: I’d have to say that leadership traits really depend on the person, whether male or female. Many qualities—persuasion, consensus building, and collaboration, on the one hand, and also authoritarian decision making and confrontation, on the other hand—come into play in key leadership positions. That is, you have to be able to put your foot down, to hold the focus of the group, and also to be able to build consensus. Balance is everything.
Bewick: When I think of women who have been in leadership roles in the orchestra, I think of them as very intelligent, very level-headed, very articulate. I think those qualities are valuable leadership traits and are respected regardless of gender.
Werne: I believe leadership traits depend on the person. It may be that women are particularly well suited to leadership roles due to experience managing family issues, or because women traditionally have served in volunteer positions, or because they possess skills particular to organization and communication. But I prefer to think that we all bring unique gifts to what we do and that each situation calls for the best person for that specific time and place. More important than gender is the sense of selfless love that that person is able to bring to the work and the sense of trust among colleagues.
Wright: What the committee has to do is a lot of hard work, and I think that sometimes women are willing to work harder and to get the details. Maybe that’s a silly remark, because it is all individual. But still, I have found that women frequently are willing to put in the detail work.
Rhodes: In Northwest Indiana, the orchestra committee became much more responsible as individuals when the committee turned from four men and one woman to four women and one man. It did. Those women came to my aid and were constantly calling to say what can I do to help, and that’s when the delegating could take place, because they were much more willing to take part, to put themselves on the line more than the men were.
Acceptance of Women as Leaders
The participants in our discussions agreed that gender is not an issue when it comes to leadership within the orchestra. Several also noted that their orchestras have had women in leadership positions in management and on their orchestra boards as well. They seemed to echo one another in describing the situations in their orchestras.
Markham: There have been a good percentage of women serving as committee chairs in Louisville. I have no feeling that there is discrimination within the orchestra concerning women serving on the orchestra committee or chairing the committee.
Werne: In Hartford, women have participated fully in the orchestra committee positions over the years. About half the time we have had a woman chair. I believe these people are selected because of their abilities and not particularly because they are women. The committee chair is seen as a very important role, and the musicians really care who is chair.
Bewick: We have had women in leadership roles in Boston, both on committees and as principals in different sections. As more women join the orchestra, it matters less and less who fills what role. It matters more whose talents are best suited to each position.
We then asked the group to think out loud about why it is that women are so readily accepted as leaders within the orchestra when this is not the case in many other organizations, or even, so universally, at the administrative level or on the boards of directors of symphony organizations.
Werne: In the orchestra, people are players, not men or women. There is a lot of equality in the music world, at least now, probably more so than in the business world.
Bewick: In the orchestra, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the concertmaster is male or female, or whether the principal clarinet is male or female. We’re all used to the idea that you won the position, you sit there. So in a way, there’s no gender difference to begin with. Have you noticed that people play the way they are? Your personality really comes out in your playing. So it is a person’s personality that we hired. It doesn’t matter, when we’ve hired someone, whether that person is male or female, and the personality that goes with the playing is a set of traits that we value.
On Women Conductors
These women also feel that the musicians in their orchestras would be equally accepting of a woman conductor, but on the same terms that they accept their fellow musicians and leaders from within the orchestra: on the basis of ability. Most noted, however, that the pool of accomplished women conductors is still relatively small, and as Clara Markham reminded us in reference to women leaders overall, “ability and opportunity are two different things.”
Dickson: There’s absolutely universal acceptance of a conductor, whether that person is male or female. And that had to do with their competence on the podium. With perhaps the exception of some hard-core sexists that might be in the orchestra somewhere, I think respect on the podium has to do with the stick, and the knowledge of the music, and the choice of repertoire.
Werne: I think if it were a woman who seemed to be the most gifted conductor all around, the orchestra would choose that person. But practically speaking, if you look at the whole pool of conductors out there, there aren’t as many female conductors, and their opportunities have not been as great: it is a new field for women. I don’t think our orchestra would go looking for a woman conductor just to make a statement. I think the process would be considered the same as choosing a new concertmaster or clarinet player. My sense is also that the orchestra knows pretty quickly who is good: we see the conductor, so we know in a few minutes if a conductor is good, and if he or she is good, that person has our support. It really doesn’t matter who the person is, or where the person comes from, or what the person is wearing: it’s more based on what’s inside.
Bewick: There’s no reason why the traits that make a conductor good can’t be male or female. Besides, the conductor is a musician, too.
They acknowledged, however, that a certain forceful personality that does not come easily to many women is still one of the traits expected of the conductor. And one participant in our group lamented the fact: “Conducting is such a male-dominated field that when a woman conductor comes through with the right amount of charisma and talent that it takes—whether you are male or female—to do the job, she has to push her talent and her charisma so far that some of her natural qualities as a woman are lost. And that can be disturbing and disappointing.”
Women, Leadership, and the Future in Symphony Organizations
And what of the future? What sort of leadership do the women who participated in our discussion think we will see in symphony organizations? What sort of leadership do these organizations seem to need? Are women’s traits or women’s participation a part of this? Do traits that women bring to leadership match particularly well the needs and processes in symphony orchestras as these organizations remake themselves?
Several of the women led their committees in ways that differed from the leadership of their predecessors. A willingness to try new ways of doing things, a willingness to put themselves on the line, and an ability to hold the well-being of the whole organization in mind was evident in what they described of their work on the committees and how they thought of their roles as leaders. In our group discussion, Diane Dickson noted:
As I listen to all of you, I observe that you are all activists in a way that previous chair people in your orchestras were not, and it is certainly true for my orchestra. And I don’t know if this is because we are women: I suspect part of it is. But also, I think what has to do with this is the changing that orchestras are going through: the challenges and problems that orchestras are facing now require that the musicians take another hard look at how they conduct their business, and it requires a more activist approach. Previous chairs, previous committees maybe didn’t have to do that, but things are changing. We have conflicts, or we are trying to grow, or, maybe, some of us are static, and that’s very frustrating. But those kinds of challenges and changes require a different approach from an orchestra committee chair.
Happily, it seems those challenges are being met with thoughtful and committed leadership from within the orchestras.
1 Regional Orchestra Players Association.
We extend hearty thanks to the 17 women whose spirited conversations provided many insights into the leadership that women provide to symphony orchestra organizations. They represent symphony
organizations that vary greatly in size, but they generally agree about the nature of leadership, stressing consensus building, communication, courage, and enthusiasm.
The board chairs are hands-on leaders who believe that candor is important, and who want all of their board members to feel engaged and supportive of their institutions. As Rhode Island’s Marie Langlois told us, all 65 board members are concert subscribers. Mincing no words, she said, “We don’t want people on our board who don’t care.”
The executive directors stressed the importance of the organization having a clear vision, and the manager’s role in articulating that vision to many constituencies. They agreed that having a background as a musician is a useful element of leadership. Seattle’s Deborah Card spoke for the group when she said that she spends a great deal of time translating information between musicians and board members.
Orchestra committee chairs viewed their leadership in practical terms, and stressed the need to weigh the urgency of particular situations. They were willing to put themselves on the line, and saw themselves as mentors to their fellow players.
Dealing With Change
These women are undaunted by change. The board chairs shared example after example of changes that have occurred under their leadership. And they were enthusiastic in their storytelling. To them, mission and vision are important, as is an organized way of work. They also stressed the importance of knowing members of their orchestral families as individuals. They agreed that symphony orchestra organizations are complex, requiring different leadership skills than do many other nonprofits. Encouraging an orchestra organization’s many constituencies to work together is paramount. Smaller organizations’ leaders identified maintaining the orchestra’s identity as a special challenge.
The executive directors stressed the importance of working to heal historically divided constituencies, sharing numerous examples, including inviting entire orchestras to attend board meetings, and inviting board members to attend rehearsals. Their use of words was interesting, and it was apparent that they thought of their orchestras as “families.” They agreed that developing the concepts of shared knowledge and shared ownership were important changes to pursue. Several spoke of the growth and change that had come as their orchestras endured crisis situations.
The orchestra committee chairs also described new ways of doing things. They were obviously willing to invest substantial time for the sake of their organizations, and one noted, “. . . the challenges and problems that orchestras are facing now require that the musicians take another hard look at how they conduct their business . . . .”
The Roles of Gender and Generation
As to whether their leadership styles are influenced by gender-based personality traits, these women are ambivalent. Throughout each group’s conversations, there was an undercurrent of “say it isn’t so,” but each project participant shared at least one example of ways in which her leadership might differ from that of a man.
Several of the board chairs and orchestra committee chairs have raised families, and described their roles as leaders within their orchestras in terms similar to those they might use to describe their nurturing roles as mothers. All three groups readily admitted a “passion for the product,” a term unlikely to be used by a man.
Generational differences were evident across the three groups, with the executive directors representing the “new breed” of career women. And the executive directors talked about the larger numbers of professional women with whom they have opportunities to network. But they also agreed that they are seeing what they refer to as a “crossover,” with younger men becoming more inclusive in their management styles.
Only the board chairs and executive directors discussed the topic of fund- raising. They see fundraising as a “normal” activity, although their experiences as women in approaching major corporations differ, apparently based on the size of the community which the orchestra organization serves. As Jean Riley reminded us, “Canada is a big country!”
What Is the Ceiling’s Fabric?
To a woman, these 17 admitted that they are working hard—harder than they had anticipated when they accepted their positions. Some of this reaction is probably quite natural, given the stresses under which symphony orchestra organizations operate in the late 1990s. The executive directors, in particular, were eager to discuss finding a balance in their lives between professional and personal activities.
Yet, woven among their tales of hard work and long hours were equally sig- nificant stories of personal satisfaction and growth. Several were eager to tell stories of accomplishments they had not imagined possible.
The board chairs and orchestra committee chairs discussed the paucity of women as music directors and conductors. The board chairs expressed concerns about the acceptance by their communities of a woman in that role. One explained that her orchestra had seriously considered a woman as a candidate for music director a number of years ago, but in the end passed, not because the candidate was a woman, but because her thinking about repertoire was too advanced for the community. On the other hand, the orchestra committee chairs were confident that players would judge women conductors by the same standards that they judge other players. They explained that players attain their positions based on ability, not gender, and they would expect the same of music directors.
From our explorations, it is apparent that women do not flinch when offered opportunities to lead their symphony orchestra organizations in a variety of ways. Across all three groups, they share a commitment to the symphonic art form and to their own organizations. The discussions that we had with board chairs, executive directors, and orchestra committee chairs would indicate that the fabric of the “ceiling” is, indeed, changing as we approach a new millennium. It may soon be “glassine” rather than “glass.” Because the Institute is dedicated to improving the effectiveness of symphony orchestra organizations, we would encourage all orchestras to undertake fresh assessments of ways in which women can contribute even more fully to positive development and change.
Women Conductors: Has the Train Left the Station?
As we planned and organized contributions on the topic of women in leadership positions in symphony orchestra organizations, we knew there were relatively few women music directors and conductors. We were pleased, therefore, to discover
Marietta Nien-hwa Cheng, who is not only an orchestra music director and conduc- tor, but also a teacher, writer, and speaker about these roles.
From the title of the essay alone, readers may correctly conclude that Cheng is an intelligent and witty observer of the orchestral conducting scene. Read the opening sentences of this essay and you’ll be hooked to read straight through.
History, Obstacles, and Advantages
Following a stage-setting statistical review of women as orchestra members and conductors, Cheng offers a brief history of women conductors. She offers an insightful review of the obstacles women conductors face—from issues of authority to bias against the “home grown.” A thoughtful discussion of the advantages of women conductors follows.
The essay then becomes personal, as Cheng shares her own experiences—the road that took her from being a member of the only Chinese family in a southern Ohio town to the podium. With great candor, she enumerates ways in which she has had to change to succeed in her chosen career.
Marietta Cheng is an optimist. She believes that orchestras will survive, but they will need to change. And as part of that adaptation, she is convinced that the doors are open for women conductors.
Women Conductors: Has the Train Left the Station?
Sometimes people are confused by what I do. Once, when I said I was a conductor, someone exclaimed, “Oh, I love trains!” That was an unusual response, if only because the number of women driving trains seems about as small as the number driving orchestras. Even in our modern West, music still lives in a male-dominated world. Changes have been slow. For example, one of the premier orchestras of the world, the Vienna Philharmonic, has only one woman member. The statistic for women orchestral musicians should of course match the number of female orchestral musicians graduating from conservatories or graduate schools in music—close to 50 percent. But in Austria and Germany, the figure for women in orchestras is only 16 percent; in the U.S., it ranges from about 30 percent in the largest orchestras to about 50 percent in the smallest.1 And this is to become one of the 100 players in the orchestra. (The figure for the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes, of which I am music director, is 42 percent.)
As a woman, to be the leader of these 100 is much bleaker. Among approximately 425 professional orchestras listed in the 1997 directory of the American Symphony Orchestra League, only 29 indicate women as music directors or principal conductors. That’s only 7 percent of all music directors, or musical CEOs. Amazingly, there is still no woman music director in any of the best orchestras, the top 25 or so. We are still setting records. The first woman music director/ conductor of a fully professional orchestra; the first woman to conduct a full subscription concert of a major orchestra: these firsts happened recently. We are on the forefront of change and acceptance. There are still battles to be won before a professional woman conductor is considered nothing unusual.2
A Brief History of Women Conductors
If the orchestra is a relatively recent phenomenon, having been around only since 1750, conducting has an even shorter history of about 175 years. Stepping for just a moment into more distant time, we can date the earliest “conducting” to around 2800 BC; Egyptian and Sumerian reliefs depict people giving hand signals to harp and flute players, a form of conducting called chironomy. Chironomy continued into Greek antiquity with hand and foot motions, and flowered in Gregorian chant. Now we know that these hand signals indicated melodic motion, and were basically mnemonic devices.
By the middle of the 15th century, the leader might motion upward and downward to show a beat, keeping everyone together. By the 17th century, the keyboard player—the organist or harpsichordist—used his hand, a rolled-up sheet of paper, or a wooden stick to control the ensemble. If the performance took place in a dark church where visual signs were hard to see, some of these “conductors” would knock a key against a bench, leading by sound. Thus the bizarre story of the composer/conductor Lully, who pounded his walking stick on the floor to keep the beat. One day he became too excited, or perhaps exasperated, and ended up pounding his own foot. He died of gangrene.
By the end of the 17th century, the first violinist or concertmaster began to function as leader. In Haydn’s day, there were two conductors: the concertmaster with his violin bow and Haydn himself at the keyboard. Not until the 1830s did a conductor stand independently before an orchestra, holding a baton, as we expect today. But most of these were actually the composers themselves: Spontini, Spohr, Webern, Mendelssohn, each conducting his own works. The first professional conductor—our concept of a conductor today—only appeared in the middle of the 19th century.
Women do not enter the conducting scenario until the 20th century—in fact, until 1930. That year, Antonia Brico debuted with the Berlin Philharmonic, to rave reviews. She returned home to the United States, and received no offers to conduct at all. For 40 years, she led a community orchestra, the Denver Businessman’s Orchestra. Only after singer Judy Collins made a documentary film about Brico in 1974 did she begin at last to conduct widely. By then, however, Brico was in her seventies. In 1938, Nadia Boulanger, the famous teacher of Copland, Piston, Harris, and a long list of other respected names, became the first woman to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the following year, to lead the New York Philharmonic. But these were actually salutes to Boulanger as a musician, since she did not think of herself as a conductor; and they were single concerts, not a full-time job. So it took until 1930 for women to be considered as conductors for even a single concert. Music schools such as Juilliard didn’t even accept women into the graduate conducting programs until the 1960s.
Obstacles Women Conductors Face
In 1967, Harold Schoenberg, then the chief music critic for the New York Times, penned the following in his book The Great Conductors: “As for women conductors, a musician knows when the upbeat starts, because that is when the slip starts to show.”3 Of course, he was attempting to be humorous, but he was also echoing a view common at the time: a woman wasn’t suited for the job of conductor. Why?
To begin with, there is the issue of authority. Psychological studies have told us that we usually accept as leader the one who is biggest or has the loudest voice or is most aggressive. Women cannot compete in this way. In most cultures, women are taught or conditioned to get along with people, to fit in, to smile. According to tradition or social conditioning, if we make decisions, we succeed by doing so in a roundabout way, indirectly, subtly. This is not the expectation for a conductor. A conductor must be the boss: assertive, decisive, with no room for doubt; sure he alone knows the way. Decisions which affect a group of sometimes 150 or 200 individuals are made instantly during a concert or rehearsal. As for assertion, competition for conducting jobs is so fierce that, to be a conductor, you must be willing to jump onto the podium absolutely before anyone else. Overinflated egos help in this regard, yet women are conditioned against such aggressiveness. So, women have to fight against conditioning. The conductor also gains authority through total acceptance by the orchestra, board, and audience.
As for the orchestra, as mentioned before, the road is rocky for women musicians, let alone music directors. Just 16 years ago, the Berlin Philharmonic suffered the trauma of the first woman player to join its ranks as principal clarinet. Rumors flew regarding the clarinetist and the conductor, Van Karajan, who had appointed her without the orchestra members’ consent. The orchestra’s treatment of the clarinetist became a major scandal, and she left after only a few years. But she had broken a barrier, and more women were accepted. The Philharmonic of Vienna—the city with perhaps the proudest musical history in the world, the inspiration of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and so many others—is still all men with only one woman, and she, a harpist who had played with them for years, was allowed membership only because of the threat of public censure in March 1977.
If discrimination is this rampant for a woman who wishes to join an orchestra’s ranks, imagine the magnification when such players are asked to accept a woman as their superior—as their leader. I use the word “superior” purposely; some orchestra musicians will not accept a woman leader unless her superiority to them as a musician is proven. Musicians resent conductors to begin with. An abundance of conductor jokes attest to this. Consider this one. “A musician calls the orchestra office to talk to the conductor and is told, ‘I’m sorry, but the conductor is dead.’ The musician calls back, and then again and again, always receiving the same message. Finally the receptionist asks why the musician keeps calling. The reply: ‘It is music to my ears.’” When I conducted one major orchestra, its principal second violin said to me, “I eat conductors for breakfast.” For many, accepting a conductor who is a woman adds insult to injury.
There is, however, an ameliorating development. The number of women musicians in orchestras is increasing. With a few exceptions, I have noticed a feeling of kinship among successful women. Recognizing the difficulties members of their gender face, women musicians are generally quick to applaud and support women conductors. They welcome the woman conductor with strong initial support, open- armed; then, they demand the same level of expertise that they would expect from any conductor.
The board of the orchestra worries about the financial and administrative side of the organization. Will the woman music director be adept at budgetary issues? Will she be successfully involved in fund raising? Will she be charismatic and a community leader? Will she have box-office appeal? What about the issue of sex appeal? The board, often composed of conservative individuals, wants to appoint experienced conductors with track records as music directors. Of course, not many women fit that description yet. Only a handful are leading even such metropolitan orchestras as Colorado, Long Island, or Grand Rapids.
Finally, the public has long associated and envisioned a conductor as a man. Just think of Fantasia, of Mickey Mouse shaking hands with Stokowski. So the public itself may have difficulties at first blush with the concept of a female conductor. The conductor is highly visible; there’s no doubt about who is running the show. An audience of 2,000 or more per concert must be convinced to accept change. There is the caricature of women dragging their husbands to symphony concerts. Will they continue to do so with a woman at the helm? What is the impact of a young, attractive woman conductor? These questions do not yet have definitive answers.
As an aside, it’s unfortunate for us all when a woman conductor falls into the societal trap of paying too much heed to expectations of glamor. Should a woman conductor seem to be completely devoted to her appearance or her sex appeal? Some women waste valuable time, time that should be spent on the music, debating: When did I wear this dress last? Is this slit too much, or what about this backless gown? How much decolletage is appropriate for the CEO? Such questions shouldn’t even arise.
Another obstacle for women in conducting is the lack of the equivalent of an “old boy network.” Even in the business world, so few women have reached the top that mentors are few and far between. And with tokenism—the scenario in which only one member of an underrepresented group is really welcome— being a mentor can produce second thoughts for a woman. In conducting, the problem is severe. Every woman conductor is still struggling; I know of none who is completely satisfied with the position she has reached, and who therefore has the time and energy to help younger conductors.
Women in all careers face a third issue: the difficult mix of private life and family. Is it possible to juggle career, marriage, motherhood, household management, volunteering, and more? To get ahead, conductors of professional orchestras must move from one orchestra to the next. Jetting around the world for guest-conducting stints, they are rarely stable in one place. Who pays the price? Conductors have awkward schedules. In many orchestras, rehearsals fall on weekday evenings; concerts are scheduled for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, nights the rest of the world thinks of as time off to spend with family. Famous male conductors generally have wives who devote themselves totally to their husbands’ careers. The joke is, of course, that women conductors need wives. (That is, of course, true for many working women.) Finally, with societal mores ever tugging at our psyches, it can still be challenging for the woman conductor to be as visible and well known as she must be without a spouse’s ego getting bruised. Few men want to be thought of as secondary. All of these situations pose significant challenges for a woman in a conducting career.
A last issue concerns both men and women conductors: the bias against the home-grown. As Americans, we have a long tradition of importing our musical talent from abroad. We still feel musically and culturally inferior, and so look to other countries for our conductors. Not until the 20th century did we even give credence to American composers; Copland was really the first to be lauded in the 1920s. Foreigners with thick accents were always immediately perceived as better, and this is a bias slow to change. Think of the big five orchestras today: the New York Philharmonic has Kurt Masur; the Philadelphia Orchestra, Wolfgang Sawallisch; Boston, Seiji Ozawa; Chicago, Daniel Barenboim; Cleveland, Christoph Von Dohnányi. Not one of these music directors is American. Look at the next five major orchestras: Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Francisco, National. Only two American leaders emerge: Michael Tilson Thomas and Leonard Slatkin. In Schoenberg’s book, not one of the 25 conductors is a woman, and only 3 are Americans.4 Many promising American talents have had to go to Europe to have careers. I myself have had ribbing that, in order to get ahead, I should use my middle name, Nien-hwa, rather than Marietta, and I should develop a thick Chinese accent.
Advantages of Women Conductors
As mentioned, an inherent clash exists between male and female conditioning and training. In today’s professional arenas, can women be themselves, or do they have to take on the guise of a man’s world? Is assertiveness really the best route to success, or is it just the traditional male one? Are there traits women hold in greater depth which should be more highly valued?
Women are conditioned to be more likeable, to maintain ties, to be flexible. Women want to preserve community, harmony, friendship, and goodwill; they want to come to agreement. Women avoid confrontation, and accord full marks to sensitivity. These are assets which they bring with open arms to most situations. Increasingly in the world of business, companies are taking a new, appraising look at the values by which women tend to live. For example, women tend to incorporate greater collegiality into their management styles. Often they seem to make others feel valued, and are good at encouraging workers on a one-to-one basis. Such approaches to management are different and, some companies are recognizing, perhaps better.
I notice, for example, that when problems arise during rehearsals, I tend to try to solve them in a less public way than many of my male conducting peers. I have witnessed repeated, somewhat humiliating criticism of individual musicians in front of an entire orchestra. Instead, I make an effort to take an individual aside, privately, at a different time. I sometimes think to ask if difficulties in other areas of a musician’s life are interfering with his or her performance. I sense that, treated this way, musicians are perhaps happier in the long run. Similarly, the model of the autocratic, godlike decisionmaker whose instant judgments are always correct, and immediately become law, does not sit well with me. Some decisions are sounder after some reflection, discussion, and a little time. I believe that many women already operate along such lines in their approach to decision making.
Other examples: disagreements occur during rehearsal. When it’s a matter of judgment—when there is no wrong or right—I try to take something from both sides. Sometimes such an approach actually strengthens musical interpretation, and leads to new insights. In my view, it’s a case of the advantage of many heads together solving a problem. Often there is little musical conflict between the conductor’s strong, individual artistic vision and the communal approach. Instead, the two can coexist, and even feed each other. Studies have shown that orchestra musicians experience some of the lowest job satisfaction of many types of employees; they have little input or control.5 Musicians, therefore, welcome the opportunity to be heard. Again, I try to involve musicians when it comes to choosing guest artists or programming. The final decision is mine, of course, but I firmly believe that, in the end, gathering—and stimulating—creative input benefits everyone: the organization, the musicians, the audience, and myself.
Change is crucial. Certainly, women need to advocate change. Countries with feminist ideologies, after all, are the furthest along in terms of equality for women. Ideally, men and women will change and learn from each other, thereby incorporating each other’s approaches. It will be a step in the right direction when routes other than stark competitiveness and assertiveness multiply and earn legitimacy. The world will greatly benefit from this change.
My Own Experience
And now I turn to my own history. In Chinese culture in the past, boys were more important than girls. For one reason, girls were lost to their parents when they wed. They became part of the husband’s family exclusively. So it was common practice not to pay as much attention to girls, to insist on their obedience and subservience, and to neglect their education. I was extremely lucky, therefore, to have grown up here in the United States with parents who wanted me to have a career. But it almost didn’t happen that way. After my father completed his graduate studies in the U.S., he was expected to return to China. Had he done so, I would have faced quite a different life. So, it is perhaps not surprising that, in the U.S., I went to the opposite extreme of what is expected of girls.
There was the added fact that, as the only Chinese family in our southern Ohio town, we were always different. From grade school until college, I was generally the only nonwhite in my class. I looked different from my classmates. No matter how hard I tried, I could not be the same—which is the normal goal of young girls; to be the same is to be liked. This difference molded me, creating an independence which may have been the first step on the path toward leadership. This is not the way of most Chinese girls, or even of girls in many cultures. Instead of being passive, quiet, and obedient, I became a performing musician, a leader, someone who would be the center of attention. So background has its effect.
In college and graduate school, I had two women as role models, both choral conductors. They showed me that it was possible for a woman to conduct. In their generation, with careers that flourished in the 50s and 60s, the successful woman conductor was a choral, not an orchestral, conductor. Quite often, the choral conductor prepares the chorus, then the orchestral conductor leads them in concert; so there is a hidden, unspoken hierarchy in which orchestral conducting is more significant. Naturally, sitting in the audience while someone else conducts the concert, the choral conductor feels frustrated. Both my role models, Iva Dee Hiatt and Lorna Cooke De Varon, were deeply concerned about this. Margaret Hillis, the highly respected choral conductor with whom I worked at the Aspen Music Festival, encountered the same situation. In the 1950s, she was first drawn to orchestral conducting, but saw no possibilities for women in that field. Being realistic, she turned to choral conducting.
I started my career first as a choral conductor, because there were opportunities in that field which I thought didn’t exist in orchestral conducting. After seven years, however, my nonvocal, instrumental background as a pianist and cellist asserted itself, and I realized I felt the most artistic satisfaction in the realm of orchestra. This was an unusual path, and since I have become an orchestral conductor, I have often been the only woman in auditions, interviews, etc. I am often asked, how does it feel to be a woman conductor? How does one truthfully answer that question?
Let’s turn to questions more easily answered. Have I noticed any difficulties in my career as a woman conductor? Even without going into guesswork about subtle bias, I’ll give two examples. One very highly respected singer once told me (I believe it was, in his mind, a positive observation), “You conduct like a man. It is very strong.” Casting further light on the situation, another famous male conductor told me, “You are unique because, unlike so many other women who are trying to be conductors, you haven’t given up your femininity.” Comments such as these are eye-opening.
Have I had to change? Yes. Musicians must be highly critical of their own playing and the playing of others in order to succeed. They must have the highest discipline and personal artistic standards or they wouldn’t make it in the very competitive world of professional music. And the conductor must have this critical judgment most of all. In fact, another orchestra joke reflects this with black humor. “Why are conductors’ hearts coveted for transplants? Because they’ve had so little use.” I had to change my tendency to be accepting and easy-going, to please instead of to lead. Some examples:
- I used to smile forgivingly at mistakes made; but no longer, because it seems to send the message that it is all right to make mistakes and to be unprepared.
- I have stopped being exclusively encouraging, saying something was good when it wasn’t. Now musicians working with me know there is a standard and the sky is the limit.
- I used to speak more softly, with a higher pitch. Sometimes my vocal cadences went up instead of down. I realized that these mannerisms lack the sense of authority. I strengthened my voice. The pitch has dropped.
- Whether for symbolic reasons or because of Harold Schoenberg’s quip, I avoid skirts or dresses when I conduct in rehearsal. Pants offer more authority and attract less attention to gender.
- I have stopped trying to be everyone’s friend. Leadership is not synonymous with socializing.
- Finally, and hardest for me especially with my Asian upbringing, I have learned to catch myself when I am compromising musically—pleasing— when I know that that is not in the best interests of either the organization or the music. A conductor must have clear ideas, vision, and direction.
In sum, I have gone through a learning phase, a developmental process, to become a better leader.
As we all know, it’s far easier psychologically to uphold tradition than it is to break barriers. Shattering stereotypes is hard work. Therefore, until the woman conductor is more commonplace and naturally accepted, she must be strong and willing to take risks. There are no guarantees. She must have incredible
motivation. She must work harder than others— in a word, she must be driven. The expectations for women are still higher. She must always be on top of her game.
A final barrier lies in the state of the orchestra today. If you read the New York Times religiously, you might think the orchestra is an endangered species that is nearing its end. Are orchestras facing financial difficulties because they are stuffy, dusty museums without wide appeal? If this were the case, the orchestra strikes and closures across the country in recent years would mean fewer and fewer orchestras, and therefore fewer and fewer opportunities for women conductors. I have not
bought into this view. These orchestras bounce back. Orchestras do not die; they change. They go through metamorphoses, with more education or program themes or crossover outlooks. It is my belief that classical music will always be appreciated. Therefore, opportunities for women to conduct will be there. In fact, since women are up and coming, we may be the ones who adapt most quickly.
Women conductors are making steady progress today. The doors have been opened. To end within my opening metaphor: “All aboard!”
Marietta Nien-hwa Cheng is music director and conductor of the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes, and a professor of music at Colgate University. She holds a B.A. degree from Smith College and an M.M. degree from the New England Conservatory of Music.
1 From material developed for A Quantitative Analysis of Women in Leadership Roles in Symphony Orchestra Organizations that begins on page 91 of this issue.
2 Normally I use the term “conductor,” not “woman conductor,” but for the purposes of this article, I’ll live with the distinction.
3 Schoenberg, Harold. 1967. The Great Conductors. New York: Simon & Schuster.
4 The Great Conductors.
5 For instance, see Judy, Paul R. 1996. Life and Work in Symphony Orchestras: An Interview with J. Richard Hackman. Harmony 2 (April), 1-13.
A Quantitative Analysis of Women in Leadership Roles in Symphony Orchestra Organizations
F rom various sources, the Symphony Orchestra Institute has collected data measuring the participation of women in leadership roles in symphony organizations. The Institute maintains a database with selected information
on about 225 organizations. In addition, we have analyzed the personnel rosters of various symphony organizations as published during the last two years, determining the number and, by judgment of first names, the gender, of persons participating in various organizational components and roles. We have collected data from various other sources, particularly from publications and reports of the American Symphony Orchestra League (“League”).1 Although none of our data are as exact as those which could be gained through person-by-person surveys, we believe the gender patterns and trends reported below are reliable within a small margin of error.
Boards of Directors and Board Chairs
What is the participation of women on symphony boards of directors? The Institute examined the 1996–1997 rosters of 19 of the largest symphony organizations, noting the number of women, and the total number of persons, involved in “active governance.”2 For these organizations, the proportion of women in this role ranged from 18 to 49 percent, with an average participation of 31 percent and a median of 30 percent. Of the approximately 1,350 persons in active governance on these 19 boards, 33 percent were women. Thus, it might be said that about 1 in 3 active governance members of the larger symphony orchestra organizations are women.
Although this participation is clearly below a general population distribution, it is well above the 11 percent of board seats held by women in Fortune 500 publicly owned companies, as reported for 1996 by Catalyst, a New York nonprofit research and consulting firm that focuses on gender issues in business and the professions.3 Women as board participants in symphony governance also apparently well exceed the 19 percent and 23 percent participation levels reported respectively for trade associations and nonprofit public interest organizations.4
As in many nonprofit organizations, symphony boards are large and their “real work” is carried out by executive committees or groups of board officers (sometimes one and the same). Quite understandably, service and experience on the executive committee begins to qualify members as candidates for board chairperson. In the case of the 19 larger organizations we analyzed, the proportion of women in this “inner working group” ranged from 8 to 67 percent, with an average of 31 percent and a mean of 28 percent. Of the 340 persons involved in this role, 30 percent were women. Thus, women are represented in the inner governance group of larger symphony orchestra organizations to about the same extent as they are participants on the boards which elect this inner group, and from which the board chairperson is quite often chosen.
In a similar analysis of the board rosters of 13 smaller symphony organizations, the proportion of women in the active governance and the central working group was respectively 34 percent and 32 percent, essentially the same proportion as in the 19 larger organizations.
The board chairperson is a very significant participant in the leadership group in most symphony organizations. Quite often, symphony organization bylaws provide that the board chairperson is the organization’s “chief executive officer.” Whether holding that title or not, the board chair sets the pace for overall board member enthusiasm, support, and involvement. Working with management and an inner circle of board members, the chairperson has singular influence on the leadership and membership of board committees, including the executive committee, and on the overall agenda, productivity, and effectiveness of the board. To what degree is this role occupied by women?
For a group of 25 of the largest size symphony organizations, 5 have women board chairpersons, or 20 percent—1 in 5—a smaller proportion than that of women on the executive committees of these organizations. Of the boards of the 24 organizations generally next in size within the industry, 22 percent—or also about 1 in 5—are headed by women. On the other hand, for 169 generally smaller organizations in the Institute’s database, women lead their boards in about 27 percent of the cases. Overall, it would appear that there is a slight glass ceiling—perhaps “cellophane” should be the description—for women moving through board service and gaining executive committee experience in preparation for being candidates for the top volunteer role in symphony organizations, especially the larger organizations. But this cellophane ceiling would appear to be much more penetrable than the solid barrier women face in becoming chairpersons in publicly owned for-profit corporations, and probably also the top volunteer roles in a wide range of other nonprofit organizations.
Starting in 1989, the League began to publish the gender and names of board chairpersons in its annual directory of member organizations. The Institute analyzed the gender of board chairpersons for 175 of these organizations which are independent entities supporting professional orchestras. For this group of organizations, the proportion of women filling the role of board chairperson rose from 20 percent to 30 percent over the 8-year period ending in 1996. This universe of symphony organizations includes a larger portion of smaller organizations than the group in the Institute’s database.
Executive Directors and Staffs
Now let’s turn to the role of executive director, the top compensated management position in an orchestra organization. As of recent date, 4 of the 25 largest symphony organizations had women executive directors, or 16 percent. Of the executive directors of the next largest 24 organizations, 6 of 22 (there were 2 vacancies), or 27 percent, were women. Looking back to a common date, 7 in 24 of these positions were filled by women, or 29 percent. Notwithstanding how the vacancies are filled, the proportion of women executive directors in this size group will be clearly higher than in the largest organizations. In a next smaller-sized group of 52 organizations, women executive directors make up 35 percent of the total. For a group of 55 organizations yet smaller in size, the proportion grows to 47 percent. And for the group of 52 of the smallest organizations, 72 percent have women executive directors. Overall, 1 out of 2 executive directors in 158 symphony organizations next in size after the largest 49 are women, and of all 207 such organizations, about 45 percent have women executive directors.
The proportion of women in the top management role in the symphony world clearly exceeds that in the for-profit world, where according to Catalyst, only 3 percent of persons with the title of executive vice president or above are women (never mind being the senior executive), and only 11 percent of all corporate officers are women.5 In the world of trade associations, 15 percent of executive directors are women, ranging from 8.5 percent for the largest organizations to 23 percent for the smallest, thus comparing with 16 to 25 percent and 47 to 72 percent in the case of symphony organizations.6 In a further comparison, about 19 percent of nonprofit public interest corporations are reported to have women executive directors, about one-half the proportion found in symphony organizations.7
The League began to publish the gender and names of executive directors starting in 1980. Based on an analysis of 175 independent professional orchestra organizations, the proportion of those organizations with women executive directors grew from 41 to 46 percent between 1980 and 1989, but rose only slightly to 47 percent by 1997. This suggests that the elevation of women to this leadership position has leveled out over recent years.
Since an executive director of a symphony organization generally obtains development training and experience by working for a number of years on the staff of one or more symphony organizations, what is the gender constitution of such staffs, including supervisory levels? The Institute analyzed the staff rosters of 15 of the larger symphony organizations, and found that the proportion of women on staff ranged from 35 to 82 percent, with an average participation of 60 percent and a median participation of 63 percent. Of the 870 staff persons listed, 59 percent were women—about 6 out of 10. In supervisory positions, as indicated by the presentation format and titles in the rosters, women filled about 50 percent of the roles, measured various ways. For a group of 13 smaller organizations, the staff rosters showed 53 percent to be women, and women apparently occupied 42 percent of supervisory positions. These data suggest that women are recruited into staffs, and promoted or recruited into supervisory positions in symphony organizations, substantially in line with their distribution in the general population.
Even though it is apparent that positions on symphony organizations’ staffs are very much open to women, it is also clear that, at least in the largest organizations, there is something of an “industry glass ceiling” to women acceding to the role of executive director. This limitation starts to a degree at the board level, where, on average, only one out of three board members is a woman. That limitation appears then to be transmitted a little more heavily into the role of executive director. On the other hand, the top management position in smaller organizations is clearly open to women on a basis which equals or exceeds their proportion of the general population. Perhaps over time, as more and more women acquire experience in managing smaller organizations and become trained in supervisory functions in organizations of all sizes, a larger percentage of the executive directorships of North America’s leading symphony organizations will be filled by women.
Orchestras and Orchestra Committee Chairs
Now let’s turn to the administrative leadership within the orchestra itself, and in particular, to the role of orchestra committee chairperson. As the Institute has pointed out since its inception, orchestra organizations are unique and complex, and the sociology of the central organizational component—the orchestra—is equally, if not more, complex. It is clear that the orchestra, as a unit, has various leadership roles. In the area of artistry, players in principal roles provide direct musical leadership, under the overall guidance of the immediate conductor and more broadly, the music director, with some principals having more weight than others. In some orchestras, there are players who are not principals who strongly influence artistic standards. But all artistic leaders may only coincidentally be involved in the administrative leadership of the orchestra. The orchestra committee’s interface with the management/governance group is usually handled through the orchestra committee chairperson, who typically establishes the agenda for the orchestra committee, and generally provides senior administrative leadership to the committee and to the orchestra as a whole. The committee is often elected by the orchestra on a staggered-term basis, but the chairperson is typically elected annually by the committee.
Data about orchestra committees and their leadership are more difficult to obtain than about boards and staffs. On the other hand, data about orchestras overall—their size and gender makeup—are fairly readily available. So let us start with that broader base of information.
According to data provided to the League by its members, the average percentage of women players in 109 professional orchestras over a 12-year period are summarized in Table 3.
As these data disclose, the proportion of women players increases as the budget decreases. The percentage participation of women in the larger orchestras (top 2 groups) has increased slightly during the past 12 years. The underlying data show that the percentage of women players by orchestra in the top group ranged widely, from 16 to 48 percent, and the orchestras with the 10 largest budgets have, on average, women as 27 percent of the players, whereas for the other 15 smaller-budget organizations, the average was 35 percent. It is inter- esting to note that the overall proportion of women in this universe of 109 orchestras has remained in the 43 to 44 percent range over the 12-year period.
Based on the reports to the League by 135 orchestras with respect to gender makeup only for 1996, the percentage of all player positions filled by women was 45 percent, slightly more than the overall percentage in the table above because of the inclusion of a greater proportion of smaller orchestras. At the level of 45 percent, the percentage of orchestra players who are women now closely approaches the 46 percent of the nation’s work force made up of women, as reported by Catalyst.9
As in the case of orchestra boards and staffs, one might assume that the proportion of women in the elected role of orchestra committee chairperson might reflect the gender composition of the underlying electing body. Here again, there appears to be a “glass ceiling” on access by women to this role, especially for the larger organizations, and perhaps synchronized with and related to the ceiling on women executive directors and to a lesser extent, women board chairpersons.
For instance, for 23 of the 25 largest-budget orchestras, only 13 percent havewomen orchestra committee chairpersons (compared with a women player proportion of 30 percent). For 18 of the 24 next largest budget orchestras, 22 percent of orchestra committees are chaired by women (compared with a women- player proportion of 44 percent). Of the next largest group of 54 orchestras, for which the Institute has data for 23, women occupy 10 orchestra committee chairs, or 43 percent (compared with a woman-player makeup of some 48 percent)—a much reduced “ceiling” effect. But for 22 smaller U.S. orchestras, women occupied 32 percent of orchestra committee chairs (compared with a women-player percentage of 50 percent)—a clear differential. Women orchestra committee chairs represented about the same proportion, 38 percent, of 13 smaller Canadian orchestras. For Canadian orchestras as a whole (including four orchestras included in the two larger groups described above), women occupied 29 percent of orchestra committee chairs, the same percentage as in the U.S. orchestras for which the Institute has data. Thus, based on a gender count of 100 North American orchestras, it is estimated that about 30 percent of orchestra committee chairpersons are women, compared with a player proportion of 45 percent.
Table 4 summarizes the percentages of women serving as orchestra committee chairs.
No data are presently available to the Institute as to the orchestra committees. As in the case of board executive committees, the participation of women in orchestra committees might well closely reflect the percentage of women in orchestras as a whole, with the ceiling effect taking place in moving from orchestra committee participation into committee leadership.
As noted earlier, our analysis of orchestra rosters did not include a count and a gender judgment of orchestra principals. Although vitally involved in the artistic leadership of an orchestra, principals do not, per se, participate in the orchestra’s elected governance. It is interesting to note, however, that a recent analysis of the rosters of 19 Canadian orchestras (including a few opera/ballet orchestras) revealed that the percentage of women in these orchestras was 43 percent (about the same as for the 109 North American orchestras cited above, which included only 3 Canadian orchestras), and that women occupied 36 percent, or just over 1 in 3, of the concertmaster chairs, but only 24 percent, or 1 in 4, of other principal chairs.10
Music Directors and Conductors
Finally, the analysis of gender representation in key leadership roles in orchestra organizations should include some measures of women as music directors and conductors. It is generally held that women occupy very few of these roles, the measure often mentioned is “less than 5 percent.” In fact, the proportion varies by size of orchestra, just as in the case of other leadership roles.
For the largest 49 orchestras, there is only 1 woman music director—about 2 percent. In the analysis of personnel rosters of 21 of the largest-budget orchestras, the conducting staff (persons listed as music director; associate, assistant, resident conductor; or other conductorial titles) included 83 persons of whom 2, or 2.5 percent, were women. For the 98 next largest orchestras in the Institute’s database for which we have the name of the music director, 4 are women, or 4 percent in that group of orchestras. For the 175 orchestras in the League’s directory which we have analyzed, of which 168 reported the music director/principal conductor’s name and gender, the proportion of women was 6.5 percent. And it is quite interesting that this proportion has increased in this universe of organizations from 4 percent in 1989 and 2 percent in 1980. Finally, a count of music directors for some 425 independent U.S. professional orchestra organizations of all sizes and shapes in the League directory for 1997 develops a list of 29 women music directors or principal conductors, or about 7 percent of all such positions.
Table 5 summarizes the percentages of women serving as music directors and conductors.
1 The member directory of the American Symphony Orchestra League for 1997– 1998, 1988–1989, and 1979–1980, along with certain statistical data based on member organizations’ reports to the League. The Institute thanks the League for its publication information and for certain data from which the Institute developed some of the findings in this analysis.
2 In determining the “active governance” members of a board, we excluded in our count persons listed as honorary, emeritus, or similar designations, and any persons who were members of large “governing member” or other broad-based descriptions, such persons appearing to be inactive in governance decision making.
3 Catalyst. 1996 Census of Women Board Directors of the Fortune 500 Companies. New York: Catalyst.
4 Shaiko, Ronald G. 1997. Female Participation in Association Governance and Political Representation: Women as Executive Directors, Board Members, Lobbyists, and Political Action Committee Directors. Nonprofit Management & Leadership 8 (2): 121–139.
5 Catalyst. 1996 Census of Women Corporate Officers and Top Earners. New York: Catalyst.
6 Female Participation in Association Governance.
7 Shaiko, Ronald G. 1996. Female Participation in Public Interest Group Nonprofit Governance: Yet Another Glass Ceiling? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 25 (3): 302–320.
8 The American Symphony Orchestra League groups data collected from its members based on the artistic and total expense levels of each organization as of the recent season. As to overall expense budget, these groupings are as follows:
9 Daspin, Eileen. 1997. Number of Women Among Top Earners in Big Companies
More than Doubles. The Wall Street Journal, December 12: B9. 10 Ewen, James, ed. 1997. Una Voce: Quarterly of the Organization of Canadian
Symphony Musicians 4 (4).
Gender and Leadership: A Review of Pertinent Research
As we explored the roles of women as leaders of symphony orchestra organizations, the thought occurred also to explore existing research about gender and leadership. We were fortunate to find Alice Eagly, a psychology professor at Northwestern University, who has done considerable work in this area. She agreed to answer our questions about research on gender differences and leadership, and to extrapolate that research to symphony orchestra organizations.
Institute: When did your interest in differences and similarities between the sexes, and in research on this topic, emerge? How did your interest come about?
Alice Eagly: I began this research in the mid-1970s in the height of activism of the feminist movement. I had noted psychologists’ many claims about sex differences and believed that these claims should be subjected to careful empirical scrutiny. At that time, I suspected that good research would disprove many of the generalizations about sex differences that psychologists had offered.
Institute: Has there been a good deal of research on this topic?
Eagly: The amount of research comparing the sexes is immense in psychology because most studies have participants of both sexes, allowing a researcher to compare their behavior. But only a relatively small number of research psychologists have taken an interest in cataloging these reports and understanding the causes of the psychological differences and similarities of women and men.
Institute: What is the difference between “primary” and “meta-analytic” research in the area of gender differences?
Eagly: Because psychologists have so many male-female comparisons available for many kinds of behaviors, answers to the question of whether the sexes differ are properly based on a large number of studies—ideally, these answers are based on all of the relevant studies that have been conducted. The convention has developed to label as “primary research” the individual studies that have investigated some topic and to label as “meta-analytic research” or “research synthesis” the effort to integrate and aggregate all of these individual studies.
Institute: Might the differences between the sexes be a matter of biology, i.e., genetic differences? Or perhaps, the result of evolution and adaptation through the ages, i.e., the emergence of aggressive, dominant “hunter” males and nurturing “gatherer” females? Could the differences people tend to think about between men and women be simply a result of human biological factors at work on the planet over the ages?
Eagly: Psychologists debate the causes of sex differences vigorously. One influential position, promoted by evolutionary psychology, is indeed that men and women adapted psychologically to different niches in primeval environments, with the differing relation that women and men have to reproduction being an important influence on these adaptations. Another position—the one that I advocate—is that men and women are specialized to occupy whatever social roles the society makes available to their sex. According to this viewpoint, known as “social role theory,” men and women flexibly adapt to the division of labor of their own society. Indeed, the distribution of women and men into social roles has varied greatly over human history, in response to the constraints imposed by economies, women’s tasks of giving birth and lactating, and physical differences between the sexes (e.g., men’s greater size and strength).
As far as what Americans tend to think about psychological sex differences, there is a certain amount of research evidence that they tend to hold “mixed” theories, in the sense that they believe that the causes of these differences lie in culture and in biology. Researchers, of course, try to partition causation on the basis of scientific evidence.
Institute: If social role theory helps to explain why there are differences in behaviors between men and women, what kinds of factors go into bringing about these behavioral differences?
Eagly: According to social role theory, a division of labor between the sexes fosters the development of gender roles by which each sex is expected to have characteristics that equip it for the work roles that are typical for people of this sex. For example, if caring for children is a task much more often assigned to women, they would be expected to have appropriate characteristics, such as nurturance and interest in helping others. If warfare is common in a society, and men are expected to be warriors, they would be expected to have appropriate characteristics, such as aggressiveness and a willingness to take risks. Societies insure that both men and women develop the psychological characteristics that are generally needed for competent adult functioning, as it is defined by the culture.
Generally speaking, societies work through socialization processes that are tailored somewhat to children’s sex. These socialization processes involve some direct teaching and much modeling oneself after parents and other adults. Also, societies give children direct experience in practicing the kinds of roles in which they would learn components of their adult roles. Different cultures would, of course, have somewhat different emphases in socializing their boys and girls, depending on the kinds of adult responsibilities that are typically assigned to men and women. In our society, as the adult roles of women have changed substantially to emphasize paid employment, girls may be given more independence in the home, and they are certainly expected to gain more education than in the past (with women now staying in school longer than men in the U.S. and other postindustrial economies). Girls’ sports activity has increased dramatically as well.
Women and men would have somewhat different personalities, attitudes, and self-concepts to the extent that they receive and internalize into their personalities the expectations that their culture fosters about people of their own sex. Personality research suggests, for example, that women, more than men, think of themselves as caring and nurturant—a tendency that personality psychologists sometimes describe as “tender-mindedness.” Public opinion research shows that women are more attitudinally compassionate than men in relation to the plight of the poor, minorities, and the like. These tendencies probably flow from the still strong expectation in our culture that women are the primary nurturers in the family and the main caretakers of children.
Institute: Let’s turn now to your first meta-analytic research project which dealt with gender and leadership style. What were the basic questions this research addressed, and what were the findings?
Eagly: The issue of whether men and women differ in relation to leadership is a many-sided question. The most striking observation that follows from everyday life is that there are few women in higher executive positions in large organizations or in major leadership roles in society. These roles are dominated numerically by men. Women’s dramatic increase in education and labor force participation has not changed these facts very much when we look at high-level leadership positions. Nonetheless, women have moved into administrative and lower-level management positions in great numbers. In the United States in 1997, the census indicates that 45 percent of managers and administrators are women. This figure can be compared with approximately 18 percent females in this occupational category in 1960.
One of the questions that seemed interesting to me in relation to leadership and the paucity of women “at the top” was whether women and men tend to lead or manage in different styles. I was interested to see if gender would make a difference in leadership styles when comparing women and men in the same leadership roles. For example, if researchers compared male and female middle managers in a business organization, or male and female school principals, would there by a systematic tendency for the women to proceed differently from the men?
In general, we thought that the particular leadership role would be more important than gender, in the sense that women and men in the same leadership or managerial role would behave similarly. Each organization should have its own traditions of management, and thus men and women would have to learn how to proceed, more or less by the same set of rules.
Our expectations were generally confirmed across the 162 studies of leadership style that we located and that allowed a comparison of female and male leaders. In organizational studies, male and female managers did not differ in their tendency to adopt an interpersonally oriented style or a task-oriented style. However, college students in laboratory studies did show gender stereotypic differences on these aspects of style, but the students had not been trained to lead in particular ways. Nonetheless, among the organizational managers (and the college students as well), there was one important difference between the women and men: Women tended to adopt a more participative or democratic style, compared with the more directive and autocratic style of men.
Women’s tendency to be more democratic, participative leaders could reflect more than one cause. Women could prefer this way of treating other people because of their personalities and socialization, and perhaps their greater interpersonal skill at handling complex interactions. Alternatively, women could revert to democratic styles because they learn that people are prejudiced against women who are “tough” in the sense that they use autocratic, “command and control” styles of leadership. One of our later meta-analyses provided some test of these ideas.
Institute: Those are interesting findings, and later we will talk about how they might apply in symphony organizational settings. But meanwhile, let’s discuss your next meta-analytic research project, which involved looking at how sex influences the emergence of leaders in leaderless group settings. Can you summarize this project and your findings?
Eagly: This project examined 58 studies of the emergence of leaders in groups that were initially without leaders. Many of these studies were run as experiments on group process, generally with college students as participants. Others were carried out on natural groups in field settings, often groups organized by professors as project groups in their university courses. Researchers observed which group members became leaders, sometimes by recording (and coding) their leadership behaviors, and other times by having group members rate one another’s contribution to leadership. The studies we analyzed all had groups containing both men and women, and provided reports of the extent to which group members of each sex emerged as leaders. In general, men emerged as leaders more often than women, yet women emerged slightly more often than men in the role of “social leaders” or facilitators, who contribute to morale and good interpersonal relations.
The tendency for men to show more leadership than women seemed to be related to their somewhat greater specialization in the strictly task-oriented aspects of interaction in the group—for example, making lots of suggestions about how the group should accomplish the work it has been assigned. Nevertheless, women became more equal in their leadership contributions in groups that were in existence for longer periods of time and that had tasks to perform that were socially complex in the sense that they involved negotiation, deliberation, and generating novel solutions to complex problems. My interpretation of these findings is that both in long-term groups and in groups that have socially complex tasks, women’s interpersonally facilitative behavior is quite valuable to the groups, and thus is more likely to be recognized as an important form of leadership.
Institute: Your next research project would appear to have some application to symphony organizations, in that it deals with how women are evaluated for higher level roles in an organization. Does it turn out that discrimination or “devaluation” of women candidates for leadership positions takes place, and how is it manifested? Does the extent of such devaluation depend in part on the circumstances?
Eagly: Our next project concerned the possibility of prejudice toward women in leadership roles. We found a marvelous group of 61 experiments that had equated the leadership of women and men by holding all of its characteristics constant except for sex itself. In some of these experiments, leadership was described in written vignettes, and the researchers gave the leaders a male name or a female name. In other experiments, leadership was acted out by female and male leaders who had been carefully trained to use the same style. The participants in these studies then evaluated the leader’s performance. Because the male and female leaders engaged in the same behaviors, any tendency to see the woman’s performance as inferior to the man’s would reflect prejudice toward female leaders. These experiments are subtle, in the sense that the participants, each of whom generally reacts to only one leader, do not realize that they are in a study of gender prejudice.
Taken as a group, these experiments did show some prejudice toward female leaders. More interesting were our findings showing that women leaders and managers are especially at risk for biased reactions under some circumstances. One of these circumstances had to do with using a leadership style that might be considered masculine, especially an autocratic, “command and control” style. Women were also more likely to elicit prejudiced reactions when they occupied leadership roles that were especially male-dominated, and when their evaluators were men rather than women. These findings shed some light on the much- discussed “glass ceiling,” which may slow or block women’s ascents into higher-level leadership roles. In such roles, it may be necessary for an executive to “take charge” in a clear way at least some of the time. Leadership roles are very male dominated, and evaluators are predominantly men. The glass ceiling may indeed be a barrier manufactured largely from people’s prejudices against women in high places.
The underlying reason why people tend to devalue female leaders, especially if leaders are in male-dominated roles and use more masculine leadership styles, is that people simultaneously expect a female leader to behave like a leader— that is, authoritatively and confidently, yet expect her to behave like a somewhat feminine woman—that is, with much friendliness, kindness, and consideration toward other people. The more a woman violates the standards for her gender— by being a very assertive and commanding leader who is not especially concerned with showing interpersonal concern, for example—the more she may be penalized by prejudiced reactions that would not be directed toward her male counterpart.
Institute: The Institute is particularly interested in fostering improved effectiveness of symphony organizations. Certainly, the personal performance of leaders within the organization, especially people in managerial roles, supports the development of organizational effectiveness. What does an analysis of the research literature tell us about the effectiveness of female versus male leaders in organizational settings?
Eagly: Another of my meta-analytic projects concerned the effectiveness of female and male leaders. This time, we located 96 studies that had compared the effectiveness of men and women who held leadership roles, generally in organizations and occasionally in groups assembled for laboratory experiments on group process. The measures of effectiveness were generally subjective ratings of how well the leader or manager performed, because more objective measures are scarce in organizations (but sometimes used in laboratory experiments in which groups produce some output like solving problems). Our overall finding from this integration of research was noncontroversial: women and men performed equally well when we averaged all of the studies.
A more detailed look at the findings showed that men and women did not fare equally well in all environments. We took a close look at the leadership roles themselves to determine the extent to which they were defined in more masculine or feminine terms. We determined roles’ masculinity or femininity by having men and women rate how competent they thought they would be in each role and how interested they would be in performing each role. A role was considered masculine if men indicated more competence and interest, and feminine if women indicated more competence and interest. We also considered the role more masculine if it was rated as requiring the ability to direct and control people, and more feminine if it was rated as requiring the ability to cooperate and get along with other people.
So, after doing all of this work, we were able to test our “gender congeniality” hypothesis—the idea that women would fare better in feminine roles and men in masculine roles. Our hypothesis was confirmed, as was the related hypothesis that men fared better than women in roles that were especially male dominated numerically, and that women fared somewhat better than men in roles that were less male dominated.
Despite these findings, I don’t think that organizations should strive to place women in roles that have more feminine definitions, and men in roles that have more masculine definitions. Such placements would only perpetuate a biased system that is driven somewhat by the prejudices people hold against leaders who function in what might be considered the other gender’s organizational territory (e.g., a woman CEO in a large company). It is only by stretching the barriers of gender congeniality that we can produce a world characterized by greater equality of opportunity for all.
Institute: Let’s talk specifically about how some of your findings might apply to symphony orchestra organizations. Having read the Institute’s interviews with orchestra committee chairs, board presidents, and executive directors, do you have any general, overall thoughts about “leadership and gender” in orchestras?
Eagly: My overriding impression is that symphony organizations are increasingly providing women excellent opportunities for leadership. Attaining leadership positions that were formerly occupied almost exclusively by men is never a simple process for women, and it is neither simple nor free of stresses in orchestra organizations. Yet, as the data presented in this issue show, there is a steady progression by which women are gradually achieving more opportunities to lead within symphony organizations, although women remain few in the ranks of music directors.
I am also impressed by the fact that orchestra organizations offer several different kinds of leadership roles, because these organizations contain distinct components that, for the most part, recruit their members from quite different populations. Musicians are recruited into leadership roles within the orchestra, citizens into board roles, and people with administrative experience into the management roles of the professional staff. This diversity means that women and men from different backgrounds can have the opportunity to function as leaders within symphony organizations.
Institute: The participation of women in the three primary “administrative leadership” roles within symphony organizations appears to be relatively high overall. But clearly women are represented less in leadership roles than in the underlying universe of candidates, and, in general, women leaders in larger, more prominent organizations are fewer than in smaller, less prominent organizations. What is one to make of these trends?
Eagly: In these aspects, orchestras show the same kinds of trends that we see in other types of organizations in the United States and, for that matter, in other countries. The tendency for men to be concentrated in more powerful and better compensated leadership roles usually is evident within organizations and across organizations. For example, if we look at universities, there are fewer women in professorial and administrative roles at higher levels of these hierarchies than in the lower levels (for example, far fewer women as full professors than as instructors and assistant professors). These trends are exacerbated in the most prominent universities, where there are very few women in higher-level roles. These same trends can be seen in business, with few women at the executive vice president level or higher in major corporations. Organizations thus reflect the larger social structure, which, to use feminist language, can be described as “patriarchal”—that is, men hold more power and control far more resources than women. As women’s status rises, women gain access to power and resources, but these changes tend to start at what might be considered the lower levels—in the smaller organizations and the less powerful roles.
Institute: In symphony organizations that are relatively open to women, including many administrative leadership roles, it stands out that the role of music director/ conductor appears to be very closed and “non-congenial” to women. Why might this be?
Eagly: Women’s difficulties in gaining access to this role tell us a lot about how gender is implicated in leadership. Leadership roles of course vary in their definitions. Some leadership roles—for example, being the principal of an elementary school—are thought to require a good deal of social skill and the ability to deal sensitively and tactfully with a variety of constituencies. Roles like this have an implicit definition that could be considered feminine in the sense that aspects of the societal stereotype of women are similar to our idea of the qualities that are needed to function appropriately in such a role. In contrast, other leadership roles—for example, being a military officer—are thought to require a more autocratic approach that involves “taking charge” and obtaining unquestioning compliance from subordinates. Roles like this have an implicit definition that could be considered masculine.
The symphony conductor role has a thoroughly masculine image. Marietta Nien-hwa Cheng made this point very clearly in her essay. “A conductor must be the boss: assertive, decisive, with no room for doubt; surely he alone knows the way.” To the extent that this definition of conductor is widely shared in our culture, it is difficult for people to reconcile their ideas of what a conductor should be like with their ideas of what a woman should be like. This disjunction makes the role especially challenging for women, but fortunately there are some women willing to take on this challenge.
Institute: Overall, many of our discussants have suggested that they believe that leadership qualities are gender blind—that is, leadership style depends entirely on the individual. But in many other ways, our discussants, particularly in their interchange of views, highlighted their more collaborative and consensus- building orientations, their more participative decision-making styles, and their more nurturing approaches to their responsibilities, compared with men in comparable roles. What do you think about these subtle shades of difference?
Eagly: I detected considerable ambivalence on this topic among the women leaders who were interviewed for this project. I think that this ambivalence is justified. One reason for ambivalence may be the difficult politics of sex differences. Many people are not comfortable discussing differences for fear that acknowledging differences would work to the disadvantage of women.
Another reason that ambivalence and reticence on this subject are very understandable is that any overall sex differences in leadership styles are probably relatively small. Therefore, differences between individual men and between individual women overwhelm our perceptions of the differences between men and women in general. Even if we think that women do have more collaborative styles, for example, we can probably come up with examples of non collaborative women and collaborative men, and these examples lead us to distrust our generalization about sex differences.
Nonetheless, people often can detect group differences accurately. So it is not surprising that, despite being uncertain about any group differences, the women who were interviewed did share a common theme to some extent. This theme, as you note, relates to being more collaborative, more participative in decision making, and more concerned with good communication and the careful building of consensus. The research that I have done on leadership styles confirms as genuine this tendency for women to be democratic and participative, at least as an overall trend when women and men are compared.
Despite some acknowledgment of differences along these lines, the female orchestra leaders consistently emphasized a range of other leadership qualities as well, such as vision, the ability to inspire others, and of course being very knowledgeable about the workings of orchestras. I agree that, without these qualities, neither women nor men are likely to be effective orchestra leaders.
Institute: There are some suggestions that a more “androgynous” style, mixing masculine and feminine traits, may be even a more optimal path to follow. What do you think about this effectiveness issue?
Eagly: Theorists of leadership have long maintained that there is no one generally effective leadership style, and I concur. Some situations call for a more autocratic, directive style, and others call for a much greater component of communication, consensus building, and participation by many parties in making decisions. The ideal leader therefore would shift from one style to another, after an astute sizing up of the style that would be optimal in each situation. Therefore, if an androgynous style meant the flexibility to sometimes be autocratic, sometimes be democratic, and sometimes find a mix of autocracy and democracy, androgyny would surely be preferable.
If androgyny meant constantly using what we might consider a blended style, that approach would not be superior, because there are situations that call for more extreme versions of what might be considered more masculine or feminine styles. For example, an organization that is in danger of disintegrating might need a leader with vision and charisma who, at least temporarily, takes charge in a relatively autocratic style. Now, the realities are that leaders are often not as astute as they might be about tailoring their styles to the situation, and they often tend to develop personal styles that are not very flexible. Another reality suggested by research on leadership is that women are restricted from the more masculine modes of leadership by the negative reactions that many people have to being directly told what to do by a woman. As long as women are penalized more than men by these negative reactions, women will be restricted from adopting the masculine styles that are sometimes the optimal approach in a difficult situation.
Institute: Some discussants have described or alluded to differences on a “community” level in attitudes about women occupying leadership roles in important organizations within the community. As unique, central cultural institutions, symphony organization have high profiles. Has there been any research on the topic of “community-based gender-leadership discrimination”? Do you think that the social, business, and civic leaders of communities should be asking themselves whether, as a community culture, they have such an underlying gender bias?
Eagly: This issue of community-based gender discrimination toward leaders and potential leaders is virtually untouched by formal research. Yet, social scientists think that some areas of the country have cultures that favor more traditional ideas about gender—the South compared with the North, for example. I would therefore expect more reluctance to give women equal access to leadership roles in all types of organizations in regions and cities that have more traditional cultures. Particularly in such cities, it can take considerable courage on the part of decision makers to make a non-traditional choice of a woman or minority group member to fill a role that has been held only by majority men in the past.
Decision makers may also be fearful of moving in a direction that might be considered progressive, but would be considered too extremely nontraditional by many members of their community. After all, symphony orchestras are highly dependent on the community for attendance at concerts and for financial support. A certain conservatism on the part of decision makers may follow from trying to anticipate community reaction. Therefore, I think that social, business, and civic leaders of communities should be continually asking themselves about their potential to show gender bias. If they believe that the community is not prepared to accept a woman in a role such as conductor, they should carefully scrutinize that belief for its validity. Some interviewing and surveying of community members might reveal that the relevant constituency is actually more progressive in relation to women than they realize. And, of course, community organizations have some responsibility to be progressive forces rather than regressive ones.
Institute: It is generally well known, and confirmed in many ways in the views we have collected, that the administrative leadership roles in symphony organizations require a great deal of time and energy. They can be very stressful roles. And yet there may be some evidence in what our discussants said that, as women, they feel an urge to “work even harder” in their jobs. What are your reactions to this theme?
Eagly: Surely the interviews of the women leaders of orchestras give me the impression of a very hard-working group of people. There is utmost seriousness about competently carrying out leadership roles, and many of these roles are very demanding of time and energy. Whether they are professional or volunteer, when women realize that they are relatively new in a role—that they are “break- through women”—I think that they often feel some responsibility to their gender and to women’s collective efforts to improve their status and opportunities. A woman leader might feel, for example, that if she should be regarded as failing in her work, it might be a long time before another woman would have a chance to undertake this same role. She might also feel, with some justification, that at least some people are skeptical of her abilities, and consequently that she has to be especially competent to be considered competent at all. Although these beliefs may drive women to work especially hard, women simultaneously meet the counterpressures that follow from attempting to lead fulfilling family lives. To the extent that women are more invested in the private sphere than men are, women may feel somewhat more pressure and conflict in demanding work roles, and may devote more thought to finding creative solutions to work-family conflict.
Institute: Do you have any other insights and advice for the readers of Harmony, many of whom are active and dedicated participants in symphony organizations, and anxious to have their organizations prosper and grow?
Eagly: My final observation concerns one of the advantages of giving women access to all leadership roles in orchestras, including the role of music director/ conductor. When women are given equal access to these roles, the pool of candidates becomes larger. Because the qualities most important to leadership— such as vision, charisma, and expertise—are distributed to both women and men, larger numbers of highly qualified candidates are available when both women and men are considered without prejudice. Also, if women begin to trust that they will be evaluated in a gender-blind way, more women will step forward and become candidates for important roles. Research suggests that the anticipation of gender prejudice causes many women to hesitate to apply for higher-level positions until their qualifications are exceedingly good—in fact, better than those of the men who apply. In a gender-blind world, women would not be any more hesitant to apply than their male counterparts; this hesitation can create the perception that there are few female candidates available.
And the belief that prejudice against women is alive and well can make women hesitate to initiate a particular career at all. For example, although it is true that there are few women in the pool of potential conductors, this situation comes about because the great majority of talented female musicians no doubt believe that the career of conductor would be a poorer choice, compared with performance, because it is virtually closed to women. To increase opportunities for women and enlarge their pool of candidates, symphony organizations need to communicate their equal-opportunity stance at every opportunity. Such communication would help create an atmosphere in which women step forward to become leaders, and have the confidence to initiate careers even in areas that have been considered inappropriate for women or have even been entirely closed to them. In the long run, organizations will benefit from having a more talented and effective group of women and men in their leadership roles.
Alice Eagly is a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. She holds an A.B. from Radcliffe College, Harvard University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.
Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of Management:
A Celebration of Writings from the 1920s
If a nonprofessional knew one name from the past in business management theory, that name would most likely be Frederick Taylor. As a cellist who agreed to review a book about organization management, I would even venture to assert that, in one sense, Frederick Winslow Taylor is to organization management what Pablo Casals is to the cello—a pioneering individual who personifies his field, long after his time. Philadelphian Taylor (1856-1915) founded the “scientific management” movement, which blossomed during the era in which America was being transformed from a society of craft production into one of mass production—a modern industrial society. Taylorism, which applied a mechanistic view of man as an extension of machine (mockingly portrayed in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times), improved standards of efficiency in manufacturing. In fact, so- called neo-Taylorism, with its “view of people as bionic machines,” and its “reliance on fear, internal competition, and manipulation and control,” still thrives in many modern organizations (not limited to manufacturing concerns).1
Coming from a completely opposite direction, but equally pioneering in content and broader in vision, is the management philosophy of Mary Parker Follett. Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of Management: A Celebration of Writings from the 1920s contains selections of her writings, and commentaries by an international group of some of today’s most distinguished management authorities. Follett (1868- 1933), born in Quincy, Massachusetts, and educated at the Thayer Academy and Radcliffe College, was influential in the early 20th century as a writer and consultant, but soon after was nearly forgotten in her native land. According to commentator Peter F. Drucker, “she had become a ‘non-person.’” His explanation of her fate is not “the expedient and politically correct one” that she was a woman, but rather that her ideas were unacceptable in the America of the 1930s and 1940s. She was “ahead of her time in the 1920s, still ahead of our time today: in Drucker’s compelling phrase, ‘the prophet of management.’” She was, however, always popular in Great Britain, and commentator Sir Peter Parker, of the London School of Economics, confesses that Follett “has mattered more to me than any other of the founders of modern management this century.” And the Japanese established a Follett Association in the 1950s to study her in depth.
The Follett philosophy is regarded variously by the commentators in this volume as humanistic, romantic, startlingly avant-garde, and utopian. (Since the 1940s, it is said, she has even been considered subversive in some quarters because of her emphasis on the primacy of collective activity in society.)
Human nature in action in business was her focus. With a background in political science and a lifelong guiding belief in democracy, Follett directed her interest toward the fulfillment of the individual in a well-ordered and just society, through democratic governance and through the optimal development of the groups in which most members of modern society must function.
As a consequence, her thought led her to promote organizations based on group networks rather than on hierarchical structures, with a strong emphasis on the influence of human relations within the group. Her analyses did not yield a step-by-step method of management, rather they were her reflections on how best to organize group efforts by recognizing the abiding truths of how human beings interact with each other. These truths have remained constant beneath the surface flow of various management fads of the intervening decades. The selections in this volume, in fact, seem more like astute essays on group psychology or sociology than writings on business administration.
Values, Premises, and Experiences
Follett’s writings consist not of clear-cut sets of instructions, but of highly elaborate and interwoven general observations, conclusions, and examples based on values, premises, and experiences. (Her first triumph was the organization and management of vocational guidance centers in the Boston public schools in the early 1900s.) These values and premises include:
- a belief that democratic procedures are the best means to achieve individual fulfillment within groups, because only through them would all participants feel both involved and responsible;
- a belief that all members of organizations, managers and managees, act from a mixture of reason, feeling, and character (managers are not superior “thinkers” and managees inferior “feelers”);
- a belief that relationships and events must be seen in terms of what she called the “circular response,” that the objective “fact worshippers” do not have the whole answer in understanding the world. She says “that in the ‘behavior-process’ subject and object are both equally important and that reality is the endless relating of these, [reality] is in the endless evolving of these relatings”; and
- a belief that cooperation and “cooperative competition” yield better results than cut-throat competition.
And what of her conclusions and guiding wisdom about organizational structures and procedures? One notable doctrine is the principle of integration: her renowned essay “Constructive Conflict” proposes that since conflict—the “appearance of difference”—is neither good nor bad, but is inevitable, it can be used to strive for integrative solutions “in which both desires have found a place, [in which] neither side has had to sacrifice anything.” Follett argued that integrative solutions are the only lasting and truly harmonious solutions, and that the use of either domination (“the easiest way of dealing with conflict”) or compromise (“the accepted, the approved way of ending controversy”) in bargaining tends to engender future difficulties. She observed that compromise is conflict forced underground, since neither party is truly satisfied and may hope to regain later what has been given up.
Her writings make clear, however, that in the meantime collective bargaining is a necessity, because “without it wages and working conditions would fall below even minimum standards. And of course if we do have bargaining we should give the two sides equal advantage as far as possible.” She emphasized that “unless the labourer can speak as a representative of associated labourers, he cannot speak with equal power.”
Power, Authority, and Leadership
About power, Follett commented that “whether power is good or bad, whether it is sought as means to end or end in itself, most people are much of the time trying to get power.” The heart of her attitude about the exercise of power was her concept of “power-with rather than power-over.” From this idea, all else follows. She believed that an organization accomplishes its tasks more effectively by creating more power throughout the organization, not by limiting it to those who have nominal authority within a hierarchical structure. The first requirement for genuine power, rather than merely formal authority, is ability. In her words, “We can confer authority; but power or capacity, no man can give or take,” and “genuine power is capacity.”
Chapters on giving orders and on authority discuss the desirability of making authority less arbitrary. The crux of her philosophy in this area is the depersonalization of orders by determining what she called “the law of the situation.” Leadership must guide the group “to see what the situation demands, to discover the law of the situation and to obey that.” And Follett did not necessarily mean those “on top.” “Authority should go with knowledge and experience wherever it is found in the hierarchy of an organization.” An employee could just as well discover the law of the situation and give an “order” to a superior. If orders were depersonalized, she argued, complaints of tyrannical treatment would go away. When mistakes are made, educating, rather than blaming, is more effective. “Nothing stultifies one more than being blamed.” She warned, however, of an opposite evil to too many orders—too few orders, the result of a fear of exercising authority
If one is by now convinced that a “Follettian” organization would be an anarchic organization, the chapter on leadership emphatically belies that impression. She defined an effective leader as one with the “ability to grasp a total situation” as it is developing. A great leader is one who can transform experience, his or her own and the group’s, into power, whose decisions about the present shape the situation as it will unfold in the future. A great leader is one who can, by making all the forces in a group serve a common purpose, bring forth group power rather than express a personal power.
She viewed leadership not as manipulation of people (destructive of trust), but as a science and an art, and she believed that the qualities of leadership can be analyzed and, at least in part, learned. She ridiculed the idea that the most aggressive or dominating person inevitably makes the best leader; in addition she stressed the absolute necessity of a lack of self-importance and pomp in those leading. “If we enjoy being over other people, there will be something in our manner which will make them dislike being under us.” She also laid great stress upon the force of example, suggesting that the leader should always be willing to do what he or she asks followers to do: “Sincerity more than aggressiveness is a quality of leadership.” She further commented on another aspect of the effective leader: “While there are still men today who try to surround themselves with docile servants . . . with yes, yes men . . . the ablest men today have a larger aim, they wish to be leaders of leaders.” “Effective leaders reward dissent, as well as encourage it,” because they understand that “reflective back talk increases a leader’s ability to make good decisions.”
The final chapter, “Business in Society,” contains a plea for professionalization of business management, that is, loyalty to a body of principles, loyalty to the “soul of our work,” rather than loyalty to the company. “I don’t see why businessmen should have lower ideals than artists or professional men.” She set a further ideal that businessmen should manage with “style,” a word dear to her, which she suggested might mean “attainment and restraint.” Especially relevant to arts organizations is her assigning to business “responsibility to educate the public.” She insisted that a professional must stick to his or her standards and, if need be, educate the community to appreciate them. Another belief is that through well and inventively managed organizations, all participants can become more “developed human beings.”
How did Follett, this woman in a sea of businessmen, present herself as a person? Editor Pauline Graham says, “Plain in appearance, lacking in style, ‘a gaunt Bostonian spinster lady’ with a forbidding exterior, Follett nonetheless charmed everyone she met.” She is described by Parker as “that bony, charming Bostonian.” Lyndall Urwick, recalling his first meeting with Follett, wrote, “In two minutes flat, I was at her feet and remained there ’til the day she died.”
This charm, warmth of character, and optimism about people shine through her words, which inspiringly draw one toward her. But, laying aside her charisma, was she too optimistic, utopian, naive? The lone commentator who believes she may have been is Nitin Nohria. His three reasons for doubt:
- too many people are driven to acquire “power-over” rather than “power- with”;
- the “law of the situation” is often impossible to determine because most situations are ambiguous and uncertain. (He says evidence supports the view that all organizations eventually become divided into or revert to a minority directing and a majority directed—the “iron law of oligarchy”); and
- many situations are zero-sum and do not have integrative solutions. Someone must be hurt.
Paul R. Lawrence, in an epilogue, strenuously disagrees with Nohria’s pessimism about the “iron law of oligarchy.” He writes of three subsequent waves of organizational theory promoting the Follettian type of organization. In his opinion, each new wave has brought incremental change toward the ideal established by Follett. Nohria himself writes, “Follet’s vision provides the energy to move forward.” (Recent news reports tell of poor long-term business results in many radically downsized companies, compared with competitors who successfully avoided that route. It would appear that Follett’s advice—to search exhaustively for “integrative solutions” to problems that may seem to have only “zero-sum” answers—is still often ignored, but only at some peril.)
But whether paradise is at hand or is still at some remove, it is difficult to imagine anyone disputing the truth of what Rosabeth Moss Kanter terms “Follett’s one principal message: relationships matter.” How would Frederick Winslow Taylor (whose work Parker calls the “Genesis” of management history) have approached relationships? With all the finesse of a sledgehammer! “If a worker won’t do what you want him to, ‘make him’.”2 I would imagine that anyone who works in a symphony orchestra today would agree that she, not he, is 100 percent right.
To read this collection is to be inspired to believe that American symphony orchestra organizations, in overcoming any unproductive organizational relics of their hierarchical origins, could be both more effective and more humane at the same time.
1 Lavigne, Kenneth T., and J. Daniel Robertson. 1994. Deming’s Profound Changes. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. p. 211.
Mary Parker Follett—Prophet of Management:
A Celebration of Writings from the 1920s
Pauline Graham, ed.
Harvard Business School Press, 1995
309 pages. $29.95 (hard cover); $16.95 (paper).
Reviewed by Martha Babcock, assistant principal cello, Boston Symphony Orchestra and principal cello, Boston Pops Orchestra.
About the Cover
Few pages convey revolution in music as well as does the one on the cover of this issue. If Berlioz, along with Liszt and Wagner, truly created “the music of the future,” this Symphonie fantastique certainly provided the cornerstone. The makeup of Berlioz’s orchestra suggests how far the symphony has come in the three years since Beethoven’s death—Berlioz asks for four types of clarinets, an english horn, four (rather than two) bassoons, cornets as well as trumpets, two ophicleides (replaced today by tubas), and two harps. But it is not just a matter of personnel. Any member of the audience at the premiere, on December 5, 1830, would have realized that this
symphony sounded like no music written before—that Berlioz was using the orchestra in a radical way, as if it were one large virtuoso instrument, capable of unforeseen effects.
This was a time of great political and social unrest—Paris was torn apart by revolution as Berlioz worked on his symphony—and the winds of change blow through every page of this forward-looking score. Inevitably Berlioz met with resistance. Mendelssohn was outraged that this “cultured, agreeable man,” would resort to “every possible exaggerated orchestral means.” The eminent critic and composer François-Joseph Fétis, who attended the premiere, delighted in reporting that “the audience thought it was having a nightmare.”
At first the Symphonie fantastique attracted controversy because of its programmatic subtext and its pictorial touches—the heartbeats and shepherds’ pipes, the thunder and fatal guillotine slash. But Robert Schumann, the most perceptive critic of the day, recognized that the most original aspect of the score was its orchestration, and he rightly hailed Berlioz as an “orchestral virtuoso”— the counterpart of Paganini with his violin, or Chopin at the piano. Indeed Berlioz uses his large orchestra with unprecedented imagination and daring, writing near-impossible glissandi in the woodwinds and horns, chords for four timpani, hand-stopped horn sounds, a raucous solo for E-flat clarinet, and four-part pizzicato bass chords. And just when the work is very nearly over, Berlioz asks the violins to strike the strings with the wood of their bows—one of the earliest known uses of col legno.
Although Berlioz did not play an orchestral instrument himself, his ear for color was unmatched, and his appetite for new sounds inexhaustible. He made “specialty” instruments, such as the harp and english horn, part of the standard orchestra, and he was one of the first composers to write for the bass clarinet and the newly invented saxophone. In the Symphonie fantastique Berlioz regularly stretches his players’ abilities (“the following eleven measures are extremely difficult,” he writes in the score at one point, reminding the conductor to rehearse the passage several times), but he can also be a model of good common sense (“if bells cannot be found that are deep enough, . . . it is better to use pianos”). The Symphonie fantastique changed music forever, but it also gave the composer new freedom in dictating how his or her works should be played. Berlioz boldly opened a new chapter in the history of orchestral music, and it should come as no surprise that, 10 years later, he literally wrote the book on instrumentation.
Phillip Huscher is the program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
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